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And the Show Went On. Cultural Life in…
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And the Show Went On. Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris

by Alan Riding

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An interesting read. Many of us like to think that if "evil came to town" we would be the first ones to fight it off or join the resistance. This factual telling of the Nazi occupation of Paris gives a very real world view. What would you do? Would you join the resistance and face death? Would you do what you could to get by and forget for a few minutes that the world as you knew it three weeks ago is no longer your reality? Are you wiling to face death for your principles? Good questions to keep in mind as you read this one! ( )
  KimSmyth | Sep 28, 2011 |
Alan Riding, former Paris bureau chief of the New York Times, tracks a period of particular moral murkiness. He focuses on French writers and artists—the whole lot might, in an act of leveling, be called artistes—and their response to the German invasion of France in 1940. Mr. Riding is less interested, though, in the broader historical implications of his theme than in the human stories that emerge when the imagination is confronted by a violent reality. . . .

A nation that has always cherished its intellectuals, that rightly prides itself on its cultivation of the arts, is still tortured by the notion that the thoughtful, sensitive and most intelligent "Marianne" ever slept with the arrogant and brutal "Fritz." Mr. Riding shows that she did, and with considerable relish at that. . . .

Mr. Riding is very good at pointing to the complexities and ambiguities of the situation. He retraces much of the ground that Frederic Spotts covered in 2008 in The Shameful Peace, but the two authors, while both expatriate residents of France, take opposed positions. Mr. Spotts has nothing but scorn for those who compromised between 1940 and 1944, whatever the reason. Mr. Riding, by contrast, finds the behavior of most French thinkers, painters and performers all too human. Many vacillated. Many were concerned merely with survival. Many who joined the Resistance later had been quick to cooperate earlier. The entertainment industry hardly skipped a beat. More plays and movies were produced in those four years than in any comparable four-year period in the French past. . . .

Engrossed in the immediacy of his story, Mr. Riding rarely pans to the wider view. If he had done so, he might have noted that at the heart of the 20th-century tragedy, pumping the blood of Modernism as a broadly based cultural mode and mood, was not Paris or France; it was Berlin and Germany. Many of the impulses for creative destruction—industrial, technological, scientific and intellectual—emanated from this heartland of the European continent. But at the same time the violence that the French were inclined to blame exclusively on the alien intruder, le Boche, had a powerful resonance within.
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307268977, Hardcover)

On June 14, 1940, German tanks rolled into a silent and deserted Paris. Eight days later, a humbled France accepted defeat along with foreign occupation. The only consolation was that, while the swastika now flew over Paris, the City of Light was undamaged. Soon, a peculiar kind of normality returned as theaters, opera houses, movie theaters and nightclubs reopened for business. This suited both conquerors and vanquished: the Germans wanted Parisians to be distracted, while the French could show that, culturally at least, they had not been defeated. Over the next four years, the artistic life of Paris flourished with as much verve as in peacetime. Only a handful of writers and intellectuals asked if this was an appropriate response to the horrors of a world war.

Alan Riding introduces us to a panoply of writers, painters, composers, actors and dancers who kept working throughout the occupation. Maurice Chevalier and Édith Piaf sang before French and German audiences. Pablo Picasso, whose art was officially banned, continued to paint in his Left Bank apartment. More than two hundred new French films were made, including Marcel Carné’s classic, Les Enfants du paradis. Thousands of books were published by authors as different as the virulent anti-Semite Céline and the anti-Nazis Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Meanwhile, as Jewish performers and creators were being forced to flee or, as was Irène Némirovsky, deported to death camps, a small number of artists and intellectuals joined the resistance.

Throughout this penetrating and unsettling account, Riding keeps alive the quandaries facing many of these artists. Were they “saving” French culture by working? Were they betraying France if they performed before German soldiers or made movies with Nazi approval? Was it the intellectual’s duty to take up arms against the occupier? Then, after Paris was liberated, what was deserving punishment for artists who had committed “intelligence with the enemy”?

By throwing light on this critical moment of twentieth-century European cultural history, And the Show Went On focuses anew on whether artists and writers have a special duty to show moral leadership in moments of national trauma.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:06 -0400)

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An evocative and penetrating account of cultural life in wartime Paris and of the moral and artistic choices artists faced under the Nazi occupation.

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