Synopses & Reviews
A suspenseful and dramatic story of impossible love between a German soldier and a French Resistance fighter in World War Two Paris.
In 1943, Michel Roth is a young soldier working in the German army's back offices in occupied Paris. But his fluency in French gets Roth a new task when the Gestapo find themselves in need of a translator for the confessions of interrogated French resisters.
After work Roth chooses another path - he slips out of his hotel carrying a bag of civilian clothes and steals into an alley where he changes personas, becoming Monsieur Antoine, a young Frenchman. He strolls the streets of Paris, where one day he meets Chantal, daughter of an antiquarian bookseller. They fall in love, and when Chantal warns him away from the notorious cafe Turachevsky, favoured nightspot for German officers and the French women who entertain them, Michel believes it is out of jealousy. Too late he discovers that she is a member of the Resistance, and his naivete leaves Michel on the other side of the SS interrogation machine.
What follows is a tale of desperate cat and mouse through Paris, and into the devastated French countryside at the end of the war, when neighbours are quick to betray neighbours, and even to take revenge into their own hands.
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Michael Wallner is an actor and screenwriter. He lives in Germany and divides his time between Berlin and the Black Forest.
Reading Group Guide
1. Scores of novels and nonfiction books have been written about World War II. In what ways is April in Paris
distinctive? What aspects of the war does it bring to light that other works haven't fully explored?
2. Though April in Paris is set during World War II, in what ways does it illuminate the use of torture in our own time?
3. How does Roth feel about his job as translator of prisoner interrogations? Why does he feel compelled to risk so much in order to assume the identity of a Parisian?
4. After he is arrested, Roth comes to a searing realization: “I was a coward who didn't dare make his opposition public. Leibold's brutish corporals were clearer about their convictions than I was about mine” [p. 193]. Is this an accurate self-assessment? What are the consequences of Roth's “cowardice”? How might he have made his opposition public?
5. Roth tells Hirschbiegel, “First something happens . . . . Some random thing. Then the next thing happens. And then the next . . . . One thing after another, deeper and deeper” [p. 86]. What does this statement reveal about Roth's attitude toward life and his own sense of agency? How would Chantal likely regard such a view?
6. Why does Roth fall in love with Chantal? Does Chantal love him in return, or is she merely using him?
7. Roth watches a one-armed man mow the grass with a scythe and asks SS officer Leibold: “How long do you suppose it took him to learn to use that scythe with one arm?” Liebold offers a sardonic reply: “War is the mother of invention” [p. 33]. In what ways is Leibold's statement true? What kinds of inventions did World War II inspire? What does this statement reveal about Leibold's sensibility and the Nazi sensibility in general?
8. Michael Wallner is an actor and a screenwriter as well as a novelist. What scenes in April in Paris seem especially cinematic? In what ways are both Roth and Chantal actors?
9. How do the stories of love and war in April in Paris intersect and illuminate each other?
10. Rieleck-Sostmann tells Roth, “You're a dreamer, Corporal. You're out of step with the times” [p. 40]. Is this true? In what sense is he “a dreamer”? In what ways is he unrealistic, or given to dangerously improbable fantasies?
11. What role does identity play in the novel? How does Roth try to shed his true identity? How does Chantal herself play with different identities or disguises? Does the novel seem to be making some larger point about the fluidity of identity?
12. Discuss the irony-and the terror-of Roth's being a translator during brutal interrogations and then having to undergo the same tortures he has witnessed being done to others.
13. How does Wallner create and sustain suspense throughout the novel?
14. Near the end of the novel, Roth thinks to himself, “I had learned everything and understood nothing” [p. 242]. What does he mean by this? What has he learned? What has he failed to understand?
“Touching [and] thrilling. . . . An impressive debut.”
The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to stimulate your group's discussion of April in Paris, Michael Wallner's gripping novel about love and deception in Nazi-occupied Paris.