The Collaborator

by Alice Kaplan

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 296

The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach is a nonfiction book by Alice Kaplan, who is a professor of French language and history at Yale University. As the title suggests, the book centers on Robert Brasillach, who was a novelist executed by the French for treason. The book examines Robert Brasillach's life, his career as a writer, and the events that led to his conviction and eventual execution by firing squad.

Robert Brasillach is portrayed realistically in the book, and Kaplan details Brasillach's strong antisemitic viewpoints. However, what led to his execution by the French was his rhetoric against the French resistance fighters. What complicates the matter of his execution is the fact that Brasillach was a homosexual, which the writer posits might have contributed to him being targeted. More deeply, the book raises the question about law, order, morality, and how these concepts become skewed in a time of war. Was Brasillach truly a traitor, or was he merely killed for his incendiary and vitriolic opinions?

In this regard, the book also explores the nature of power in a time of war. How were the French resistance fighters any less powerful or any more morally good than the German Nazi fascists? This question of the ethics of state-sponsored execution is framed by the fact that there were many figures in the war who directly led to the murder and oppression of innocent people but did not suffer any punishment.

If they were let go for their actual atrocities, then why was Brasillach killed simply for his rhetoric? The irony is that Brasillach was a proponent of a fascist regime and the people who killed him were anti-fascist, and yet it was the latter who acted like fascists by suppressing his opinions with bullets.

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