resistanceThe subtitle of this books is: “A Woman’s Journal of Struggle and Defense in Occupied France.”  I’m not sure that’s necessarily true–I think the book is mostly about her struggle and experience after getting caught being part of the resistance in occupied France. Whichever way, it’s fascinating, sometimes horrifying and heartbreaking reading.

After reading the Diplomat’s Wife, I became more interested in the resistance movements in varying countries occupied by the Nazis during WWII.  While on a recent trip to France, browsing a most fabulous book store, I came across Resistance and resolved to get it from my local library as soon as I returned home. (On a sidenote–I must talk a bit more some time about this book shop and how it in the end depressed me.) It was a strange read for me–the kind of book that instantly sucks you in, you read longer than you should, but when you do finally put it down for some reason, you discover that it’s hard to pick back up. After doing that a couple of times, I think I realized that it was because I was so emotionally invested in her story–and I knew that her experience was only going to get worse.

Agnes Humbert was one of the first members of the first resistance cell in France. You see her flee Paris as the Nazis take over and then return with some idyllic and mostly naive sense that there must be something she can do in Paris to help her country. And she does. She had many interesting political connections before the war, which enables her to get in front of the right people at the right time.  Initially her work is merely leaflets to be distributed to Parisians who have only heard the Vichy french or German point of view of the war–a perspective decidedly out of whack with reality.  Eventually, leaflets are no longer enough and she spearheads an underground newspaper–appropriately called resistance. In the final days of her efforts, she harbors a British soldier who is trying to escape and helps coordinate the dissemination of stolen important intelligence documents and maps. With just over a year of efforts to the resistance under her belt, a member of the cell’s inner circle betrays them all and the gestapo takes her away unexpectedly.

Agnes spends about a year in a horrid french prison with vermin, little food, torture, and freezing conditions. Eventually, she is tried with the rest of the cell, but being a woman is spared the death penalty, unlike her comrades. She then is deported as a political prisoner to Germany, where she discovers that political prisoners there are no different to the Germans than murderers, thieves and other convicts and she is set to hard, progressively dangerous labor. The next many sections of the book cover her movement in Germany to a couple of different work factories, where her greatest accomplishment other than staying alive is knowing that everything she produces in the factory is subtly defective–not enough so that someone immediately inspecting it could tell, but so that as soon as it is untraceable to her and needed for use, it would not meet its function. For which I felt glee for her as well.

The ending is inspiring. She stays on to help with intelligence before going home to France. All told she spent nigh on four years behind bars of some sort for her little over one year’s largely publication efforts at resistance.

I don’t know if I can love a book about so much misery and destruction. But I can say that it was very worth while–one that I won’t forget. And that I am better educated for having read. One commentator to the book praised it saying that the quality of the writing is not what one would expect from the many memoirs made about WWII–rather, it was great literature. I wholeheartedly agree. I think it’s even more important in the grand scheme of important WWII books because it’s a woman’s point of view, who was in the thick of it, who used her brilliance to make a difference.