Paris After the Liberation: 1944–1949
by Anthony Beevor and Artemis Cooper, Doubleday, 432 pages .
If only important times could always inspire social histories as fine as this one. The authors begin with the infamously abrupt collapse of the Third Republic and the four-year occupation, following with tempered admiration de Gaulle’s exile activities in England and Algeria while the American government tries to sort out which of the French commanders to recognize.
Small bronze plaques today mark spots around the city where nearly three thousand Parisians fell in street battles in the occupation’s last days. Most of this lucid book is about Paris’s swift return to itself after the liberation. As soon as the Germans and Americans were gone, and despite the wreckage and poverty all around, the city was once again a cultural and intellectual world capital (one of the first monuments liberated, in fact, was the Comédie-Française, where the young Yves Montand stood sentry). From Vichy and the shelling of the Hôtel de Ville to the rise of existentialist philosophy was but a couple of years’ work. With the liberation, the authors point out, and with the second, economic “liberation” in 1947 by the Marshall Plan, came the beginnings of the modern French “lovehate relationship with the United States,” which has continued, hot and cold, ever since, like a “recurring fever.” The authors also expertly show how “the shame of Vichy” led some of the young of the next generation to hard Stalinist convictions. Anything but apathy again.