Synopses & Reviews
A National Book Award FinalistA National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist On February 6, 1945, Robert Brasillach was executed for treason by a French firing squad. He was a writer of some distinction a prolific novelist and a keen literary critic. He was also a dedicated anti-Semite, an acerbic opponent of French democracy, and editor in chief of the fascist weekly Je Suis Partout, in whose pages he regularly printed wartime denunciations of Jews and resistance activists.Was Brasillach in fact guilty of treason? Was he condemned for his denunciations of the resistance, or singled out as a suspected homosexual? Was it right that he was executed when others, who were directly responsible for the murder of thousands, were set free? Kaplan's meticulous reconstruction of Brasillach's life and trial skirts none of these ethical subtleties: a detective story, a cautionary tale, and a meditation on the disturbing workings of justice and memory, The Collaborator will stand as the definitive account of Brasillach's crime and punishment.
"Unabashedly personal, Alice Kaplan's French Lessons yoked together disparate ingredients (autobiography, scattered close readings, and psychological speculation about anti-Semitic writers), in a way that challenged even the post-modern notion of method and discipline. The Collaborator repeats the performance with two departures: Kaplan oddly refers to her work as a 'study' (i.e. a disciplinary product) and she embeds her research in a broad ethical-legal issue (the lightness or wrongness of executing a traitor convicted for his verbal behavior). Drawing heavily on existing research (especially that of Michel Laval) but also presenting some important new evidence strenuously pried loose from French government archives, Kaplan vividly reconstructs Brasillach's life as a wayward elite and third-rate novelist who turned cheer-leader and tattler for the German occupants of Northern France. Even more interestingly, Kaplan reconstructs Brasillach's purge trial using not only the transcript, (whose brilliant rhetoric she ably sums up and comments on) but all that she could glean about his prosecutor, defense attorney, judge, and jury. It is in these gleanings that Kaplan falters: she relies on uncriticized anecdotes from interested sources, falls back on social-psychological guess-work where facts are scarce or non-existent, and plays to the reader's stock responses. On the ethical-legal side, she raises vitally important questions which, as a popularizer, she does not explore as fully as required to justify her abrupt and blunt conclusion: that Brasillach was guilty of treason but that his death sentence was excessive and, worst of all, it made of him a potential posterboy for the new French Right. Behind Kaplan's judgment lies a pervasive instability of attitude toward her subject: was Brasillach attractive or repulsive, pitiful or contemptible, a naughty child out of control or a moral monster? Kaplan's wobbling is even more awkward than this summary suggests, for she takes pains to foreground (as in French Lessons) that she is not only Jewish but the daughter of a Nuremburg war-crimes prosecutor. Accordingly, her Brasillach seems to be playing out his drama in the shadow of Kaplan's ever-looming self-preoccupation. Which brings us back to square one." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
"This study...is fascinating and well written." Library Journal
"The subject is a somber one, but she brings to it...fluidity and grace and even something of [a] light, seductive touch." New York Times Book Review
"An important contribution to modern French history." Kirkus Reviews
"[O]ne of the best-written, most absorbing pieces of literary history in years."-David A. Bell, New York Times Book Review
On February 6, 1945, Robert Brasillach was executed for treason by a French firing squad. He was a prolific novelist and a keen literary critic; he was also a dedicated anti-Semite and editor of a fascist weekly newspaper. Was he in fact guilty of treason, or singled out as a suspected homosexual? Was it right that he was executed while others, some directly responsible for the murder of thousands, were set free? Kaplan's meticulous reconstruction of Brasillach's life and trial skirts none of the situation's ethical subtleties, and will stand as the definitive account of Brasillach's crime and punishment.
About the Author
Alice Kaplan is the author of French Lessons: A Memoir, The Collaborator, The Interpreter, and Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis, and the translator of OK, Joe, The Difficulty of Being a Dog, A Box of Photographs, and Palace of Books. Her books have been twice nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Awards, once for the National Book Award, and she is a winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She holds the John M. Musser chair in French literature at Yale. She lives in Guilford, Connecticut.
Table of Contents
ONE: The Making of a Fascist Writer
TWO: Brasillach's War
THREE: The Liberation of Paris
FIVE: Marcel Reboul: The Government Prosecutor
SIX: Jacques Isorni: Counsel for the Defense
SEVEN: Missing Persons: Brasillach's Suburban Jury
NINE: The Writers' Petition
TEN: No Pardon
TWELVE: After the Trial
THIRTEEN: Justice in Hindsight
FOURTEEN: The Brasillach Myth