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Paris in the 1930s—melancholy, erotic, intensely politicized—provides the poetic beginning for this memoir by one of America's most renowned literary scholars. Victor Brombert recaptures the story of his youth in a Proustian reverie, recalling his childhood in France, his family's escape to America during the Vichy regime, his experiences in the U.S. Army from the invasion of Normandy to the occupation of Berlin, and his discovery of his scholarly vocation.
Brombert evokes his upbringing in Paris's upper-middle-class 16th arrondissement, a world where "the sweetness of things" masked the class tensions and political troubles that threatened the stability of the French democracy. With time, Brombert became acutely aware of the grimmer aspects of life around him: the death of his sister, Nora, on an operating table; the tragic disappearance of his boyhood love, with her infant child; and the cries of "Sale Juif," or "dirty Jew," that escalated in terrifying fashion as the decade drew to a close.
The invasion of May 1940 dispelled the optimistic belief, shared by much of the French nation, that the horrors that had descended on Germany could never happen to them. Brombert's family was forced to flee from Paris, first to Nice, then to Spain, and finally across the Atlantic on a banana freighter to America. There Brombert joined the U.S. Army and soon found himself at Omaha Beach, then in Paris at the time of its liberation, and later at the Battle of the Bulge. Using the train as a metaphor for his own personal journey, Brombert brilliantly re-creates a life of travel and exploration, fashioning what should become a classic memoir from his experiences.
“Brombert's portrait of Paris and France in the years before the war is penetrating, evocative but also honest and wholly unsentimental…A singular memoir [and] a work of not-inconsiderable art.” —The Washington Post Book World
“A beautifully written book. It has an elegance and is never a mere recording of what happened in France between 1933 and 1941.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Impossible not to like.” —The NY Review of Books