Murph's Book Reviews: Taking Paris
The list of books written on World War II would in of itself take a few volumes to compile. Honestly, Google it, or look on Amazon, the spread is exceptional, and for every Book Thief, Band of Brothers, and Catch-22, there are those coattail writers who can only be deeply scolded for their slapdash attempt at retelling someone else's story in a way that can at best be accused as lazy. "Taking Paris" is such a book.
I came in with such hopes. I've yet to get a good story of Paris on the bookends of the war, first when taken by the Nazis, nor later when recaptured in the name of freedom. There are many anecdotes, from brothels eagerly preparing for German soldiers soon to arrive, while the rest of the city continues on in pure insouciance, going about their life until literally the last seconds before Panzers cruised down past the Arc de Triomphe, to the epic recapture by the underground mere hours after Hitler's order of total decimation of The City of Lights. Anecdotes however, do not make a story.
The Book is three parts intertwined. The first is the story of Charles De Gaulle, his rise to fame in the early throws of the war through his epic counter attack against the Germans at Caumont France and then later at Abbeville, then ultimately his claim as leader of the Free French both on and off Le Hexagon. His story peaks early, though like his position through the rest of the war, De Gaulle sort of hangs around, neither accomplishing anything much of note, nor being allowed anything resembling power by the other allied commanders. Nonetheless he strolls into Paris at just the right time during the summer of 44, endearing himself to Francophiles of many past and future generations.
I was hoping Martin Dugard focused on one or both of the times Paris was taken during the war. Instead, as it seams there wasn't much a story to tell of those events. Instead for his second part, he tells a rehashed story of Virginia Hall, the most dangerous spy in Europe. I can't do her story justice and won't try. For a more comprehensive review please see "A woman of No Importance." The one by Sonia Purnell. Though I've heard Oscar Wilde's version isn't too shabby either. I feel as though Martin read Sonia's book and was so impressed he just had to honor it by stealing the best parts. I kept thinking "I've read this before" and "he just skipped over half the story." It wasn't jarring, but it felt out of place.
The third part is good solid padding. Venerable figures from Erwin Rommel, Churchill, and General Eisenhower are given their due, but ultimately solidify my major problem with this book: it's supposed to be about Paris, the taking of. It's not. Instead we get a general overview of a war anyone with even passing interest will already recognize. The writing is fine, the anecdotes are above average, but it's not the book I expected. That in of itself, can be the worst sin of all. It tells stories we already know, without succeeding in connecting them together into a cohesive story. Then, he presents it as something it's not. A good 5 percent of this book is actually about the "Taking of Paris." If you have never heard of WWII and are interested to learn more, you will not be done wrong by picking up this novel. That being said, I feel it was not as advertised, and ultimately, was not for me.