The War

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Marguerite Duras, one of France’s most successful contemporary authors, who fought with the left wing of the French Resistance movement during the war, reflects on the conflicting emotions generated by her experiences. The book for the most part consists of four separate but interrelated memoirs describing the end of German occupation and the liberation of Paris.

Driven by an intense loyalty to the movement and to her compatriots, Duras struggles with her own tendency to see the human side of her enemies as well as the faults of her fellow Resistance fighters. The long opening entry describes her wait for her husband’s return from the Belsen concentration camp and her efforts to nurse him back to health while knowing that she must leave him following his recovery. Other parts of the memoir tell of her interaction with German agents and collaborators, whose repugnant actions could not completely destroy Duras’ physical and emotional attraction toward them.

Writing history was not Duras’ purpose. A novelist heavily influenced by Existentialism, she is superb at portraying emotions and attitudes and the human capacity for simultaneous empathy and hatred. Two tangentially related short stories by Duras, appended to the memoir, are not as effective as the main body of the work.

Readers with an interest in military tactics and action will be frustrated by this book, for it is a memoir of what took place in the mind of one person and does not recount historical events per se. In fact, those who know little about the French Resistance cannot expect to find much about it here except for the thoughts and feelings of one member. Of note are several cameo appearances by the current French president, Francois Mitterand, who, like Duras, was a member of the leftist Resistance.