Resistance – Book 1 Liberty by Eilidh McGinness
This is a dramatic novel of a significant time and place in twentieth century history, Occupied France during the Second World War. The stories of resistance by “official” groups and determined individuals is told from the fictional experiences of two young people, and it is their bravery that this book largely celebrates against a background of brutality and betrayal. Sabine Faure works on the family farm outside a fictional village of Saint-Antoine-de Double in Dordogne in South-West France. As befits someone who has grown up in the area, she has an excellent knowledge of the people and places, the routes and secrets of the mainly wooded area. The same cannot be said for the charismatic Herisson, who has to learn how to cope in an environment that is at once bountiful in hiding places and food but is also filled with danger as various German groups seek to hunt down anyone who opposes them. The other characters that fill this book, whether quietly trying to resist the occupation or seemingly willing to accept the status quo, are also drawn as real people. The pace of the book is admirable, as the two young people encounter potentially life changing challenges. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this impressive book.
The book opens in July 1941 when Herisson is being smuggled in a wine barrel by sympathetic men out of the Occupied Zone of France. He has abandoned his home and any family to find and join a Resistance group, being determined to fight for a free France and a Communist dream. He is joined by three friends, all young men determined to risk everything to fight. As they walk towards a village in which they have been told is a contact, they are a little frightened by the unusually dense woodland that surrounds the road. Meanwhile Sabine is working on the family farm, resenting her peasant status and wishing she could do more than prepare and deliver cheeses. Meeting a good friend, she is shocked to be given a mission for the local resistance which she is uniquely able to complete. While keen to take action, she is painfully aware that her overbearing father is keen to keep his head down and not endanger the family at whatever cost. She knows that her actions will endanger not only herself but many people around her, but she is still determined to embrace the opportunity. Her first meeting with Herisson is not a positive experience for either, as both realise that so much depends on absolute secrecy, and he and his friends have made a lot of assumptions about how easy it will be to become involved. Indeed, their first encounter in the woods with a group is not something that they could have predicted, and they are swiftly left in no doubt as to the realities of resisting the German forces.
This is a novel which is firmly anchored in the realities of communities largely at the mercy of occupying forces. It is not the world of British agents though there is a supporting role in the background; most of those who are active in the operations and deliveries are aware of the possible impact on their communities of discovery and reprisals. This is a well-paced novel of those who risked so much behind the lines, with a solid base of research which never intrudes into the narrative. I recommend this book to anyone who wants a fictionalized picture of the French people under occupation and all those who tried to make a difference, often at great personal cost.