Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1
As a scholar of nineteenth-century French history and literature, I had always been fascinated by a paradox: France was the first modern European country to grant the Jews full civil rights (in 1790-91) but it was also the country where modern antisemitism first took shape. I’ve explored that paradox in a series of books, including most recently The Betrayal of the Duchess. Since 2011, I’ve also directed the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism. Many people don’t realize that France today has the third-largest population of Jews in the world, after Israel and the United States. And it continues to be ground-zero for antisemitic attacks. So studying this history is more important than ever.
The year was 1832 and the French royal family was in exile, driven out by yet another revolution. From a drafty Scottish castle, the duchesse de Berry hatched a plot to restore the Bourbon dynasty. For months, she commanded a guerilla army and evaded capture by disguising herself as a man. But soon she was betrayed by her trusted advisor, Simon Deutz, the son of France's Chief Rabbi. The betrayal became a cause célèbre for Bourbon loyalists and ignited a firestorm of hate against France's Jews. By blaming an entire people for the actions of a single man, the duchess's supporters set the terms for the century of antisemitism that followed.
Brimming with intrigue and lush detail, The Betrayal of the Duchess is the riveting true story of a high-spirited woman, the charming but volatile young man who double-crossed her, and the birth of one of the modern world's most deadly forms of hatred.
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This is the first novel by Modiano, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014. It has been translated into English but with a French title, which contains a pun that can’t be translated (referring both to a location in Paris and to the infamous badge imposed by the Nazis). A darkly comic and shocking send-up of French antisemitic literature, the novel features a clownish protagonist named Raphaël Schlemilovitch who embraces every antisemitic stereotype imaginable, becoming in turn, a cosmopolitan, a traitor, a collaborator, and a pimp before winding up on the couch of Sigmund Freud begging to be put out of his misery. Modiano wrote this novel to exorcise the demons of French literature and it helped him carve out a place as a distinctly Jewish voice in the French literary pantheon.
We think you will like No Place to Lay One's Head, Twenty and Ten, and The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog if you like this list.
From Clare's list on WW2 memoirs by brave and remarkable women.
This incredible memoir reads like a thriller. Polish-born Francoise ran a Berlin bookshop until she was forced to flee from Nazi persecution, first to Paris, then to Southern France. The term ‘unputdownable’ is a terrible cliché, but was literally the case for me with this breathtaking story of escape and survival. Clear your diary before you open the covers of this compelling book.
From Sandy's list on young characters with courage and resistance in WWII.
Reading aloud to students is my ultimate commendation for the best books, with a bonus for books that are short and powerful. Twenty and Ten is based on actual events in a French boarding school during World War II. When ten desperate Jewish children needed a sanctuary to survive, to avoid being sent to concentration camps, the nuns wisely discussed this with the twenty resident children. Those children would need to keep their life-or-death secret. Limited food and resources, barely enough for the twenty, would need to stretch to keep ten more alive, perhaps for years. If discovered, all might be taken, or killed. “What do you think they will do?” and “What would you do?” and “Why?” are among my favorite questions when sharing this book. Amazing conversations follow, for children and adults. Then eager hands reach for copies to read again.
From Nancy's list on kids who love a medieval quest.
A warm inn, and a stranger’s tale gather together a group of travelers as they become fascinated by the story of three gifted children that is sweeping the land. I loved the way this book brought the story of the people in the inn and the marvelous children together step by step. Peppered with real historical figures and legends this book is a must-read for the middle-grade medieval enthusiast.