Since I started studying French again in September, I have become more of a Francophile than ever. I’m dipping my toes into reading books in French, but they are a challenge; so I will content myself for now with English translations and accounts of life in France and in the process add books to my French to-read list (giving me that much more motivation to keep studying the language!)
As I am also (bizarrely) fascinated with events in World War II, the book And the Show Went On was an instant purchase for me when I heard about it. Alan Riding takes us to Paris before, during and after the war and provides a look at how culture – theater, film, dance, art, music and literature – reacted to the invasion and subsequent occupation.
The culture of Paris may have slowed down during the war, but by no means did it stop. Despite having to report to German censors, artists of all forms were rather productive during this period and also managed to include subtle hints of resistance in their work.
Surprisingly (to me, anyway) there seemed to be a fair amount of both resistance and “collaborationist” activities within the cultural communities, though Riding does make the point that some of those indicted for collaboration at the end of the war – were only doing their job to provide for their families and had no malicious intent at all, not unlike French factory workers forced into producing equipment for the German army.
Although I’m not entirely familiar with a lot of their work, many of the artists discussed — Picasso, Edith Piaf, Sartre, Colette, for example — are names I know and hope to experience (read, see, hear) what they produced during this period. Others, such as Marguerite Duras (writer) and Montherlant (playwright) are new discoveries.
The war is, of course, central to this book; and as such its major effects (especially the persecution of Jews) cannot be ignored. However, it is interesting to see how a country (well, more specifically the city of Paris) is able to keep a creative pulse despite the hardship and repression that the occupation forced upon them.