The Free Frenchman

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Tied to ancestral lands and traditions, Bertrand de Roujay nevertheless leaves his high post to join Charles de Gaulle’s feeble force in London. Piers Paul Read frames this unexpected decision by delving back many decades into the history of two families, the elite de Roujays and the free-thinking Bonnets. Madeline Bonnet, the cherished daughter of a radical professor, becomes Bertrand’s wife. Their union begins as a flowery romance but nurtures as well the seeds of harsh betrayals and confrontations, both emotional and political. When the Germans occupy France, many in Bertrand’s circle find ways to accommodate to the new regime. Others begin the underground resistance, and still others trade loyalty for francs and privileges.

Convinced that only a free France could preserve civilization for the world, Bertrand slips away to England. He finds for himself not only military usefulness but also a dewy, new English love. Their shenanigans in embattled London and Yorkshire are a piquant foil for the seriousness of the Blitz.

Eventually, Bertrand returns to expel the Germans but the jealous resistance factions have a few more surprises for him. An epilogue reports on the just deserts meted out to all.

Read, hailed as one of England’s finest writers and author of the acclaimed ALIVE!, exhibits a narrative gift that infuses historical facts with subtle shadings of morality, faith, and exuberant joie de vivre. In his ninth novel, he demythologizes the resistance but replaces the stereotype with real characters imbued with the will to live.