Born in 1927, Nicole Braux's earliest recollections occur in the French city of Nancy, where her father owned and operated a hotel and restaurant. Her charming reflections paint a picture of a romantic culture still wounded by the First World War. Nicole was 12 when her father was recalled into the reserves in 1939. Within months, she watched German troops invade. "We peeked above the window sill and saw them...Our imaginations hadn't exaggerated; they looked as evil, it not more so, than we'd expected!" Little by little, the Braux family adjusted to life under occupation. They experienced recurrent air raid alerts, Nazi propaganda, rationing, the Black Market, and bombings. As they struggled simply to acquire food and keep warm, thinking of the future became irrelevant. Teachers, friends, employers, priests, nuns, and doctors disappeared in the night. Relationships became veiled in worry, suspicion, and secrecy. French citizens quietly resisted. They concocted strategies to elude curfew. Women dressed to offend Germans, donning short skirts and makeup, and choosing the bright colors of the French flag. They sold tainted food to the despised oppressors. As the fighting drew ever closer, desperation and terror increased, but miraculous events brought hope. Finally the inconceivable joy of liberation came. However, food remained scarce, the fate of her father was still unknown, and now 18, Nicole found herself deeply in love with Lieutenant Ancel G. Taflinger, pilot for General George S. Patton. Written decades ago but never published, the author's guileless voice enhances her adolescent memories of the German occupation - an existence of fear, loss, suffering, and fierce hatred - and illustrates the immense emotional toll of war.
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"My father was not a good businessman ..."
As the Second World War sinks into the realms of ancient history , with very few now left who endured both it and the immediate aftermath, accounts like this one become ever more important. The military side of the action is well documented, not so much the experiences of the civilians who had to continue their daily lives as if nothing much had changed, whilst in reality, all that which was past and constant was gone forever.
These recollections of a young French girl, entering the the occupation days in her early teens, is especially poignant: old enough to remember how it was before the Germans came but still open to life's complexities and with a youthful hope for the future, her memories are clear and very moving and sometimes surprising. It cannot tell more than a tiny slice of what it was like to be caught up in the awfulness of wartime Europe. Everyone will have had different experiences, different stories to tell. But it is one piece in that huge jigsaw which can pass down through generations an awareness that the dry military facts can never give. Told with a simple naivety, I especially enjoyed her recollections of her childhood, the almost unchanging quality of that time sandwiched between World Wars One and Two, a time which was surely lost forever.
The narrator, Sally Martin, is the perfect voice for the girl, reading with a clear, innocent voice in perfect synchronicity with the text, bringing her to life in a way that reading the written word might fail to do. The whole book is atmospheric, well written and moving.
I was fortunate in being gifted a copy of Season of Suffering by the rights holder, via Audiobook Boom. My thanks for that. I have read extensively about this traumatic period of the 20th century, having been born during the war, and have heard many stories, both from relatives and others, as well as in books, of what it was like to be living in England through it all. Everyone remembers different things. So good to have the first hand experiences of a young woman's memories of her life in France to add to the overall picture.
A recommended read to everyone who is in anyway interested in people, wherever and whenever they might be.
- Norma Miles