I have mentioned my family’s involvement in the French Resistance, and that and the fabulous reviews of this novel, another one of Rosie’s Book Review Team discoveries, meant that I had to read it (and I’d wanted to read one of the author’s novels for quite a while). Well, the novel is a must-read, and I discovered even more connections to the topic.
THE PEACEFUL VILLAGE. A NOVEL by Paulette Mahurin
During the German occupation of France, nestled in the lush, verdant countryside in the Haute-Vienne department of central France was the peaceful village of Oradour-sur-Glane. It was a community where villagers woke to the medley of nature’s songs, roosters crowing, birds chirping, cats purring, and cows plodding on their way out to pasture. The people who lived there loved the tranquil nature of their beautiful home, a tranquility that existed year-round. Even with the German occupation, Oradour-sur-Glane – the village with cafés, shops, and a commuter tram to Limoges – remained relatively untouched by the stress of the occupation.
While Oradour-sur-Glane enjoyed the lack of German presence, twenty-two kilometers to the northwest in Limoges, the Germans were reacting with increasing cruelty to organized attacks on their soldiers by the armed resistance organization Francs-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP). Headed by Amédé Fauré, the Limoges FTP was considered the most effective of the French Resistance groups. Fauré’s missions prompted the German military to kill and incarcerate in concentration camps anyone perceived as supporters or sympathizers of the Resistance.
Up until the middle of 1944, the German anti-partisan actions in France never rose to the level of brutality or number of civilian casualties that had occurred in eastern Europe. A little before the Allies landed in Normandy, all that changed, when German troops, and in particular the Waffen-SS, stationed on the Eastern Front were transferred to France. It was then that FTP’s increasing efforts to disrupt German communications and supply lines were met with disproportionate counter attacks, involving civilians. Fauré’s response was to target German officers. When he set his sights on two particular German officers, all hell broke loose.
Based on actual events as told by survivors, The Peaceful Village is the fictionalized story of the unfolding of the events that led up to one of the biggest World War II massacres on French soil. Much more than an account of Nazi brutality and the futility of war, this is a story of love. The love of family. The love of neighbor. The love of country. Compassion and courage burn from the pages as the villagers’ stories come alive. Written by the international bestselling author of The Seven Year Dress, Paulette Mahurin, this book pays homage to the villagers who lived and loved in Oradour-sur-Glane.
About the author:
Paulette Mahurin is an international best selling literary fiction and historical fiction novelist. She lives with her husband Terry and two dogs, Max and Bella, in Ventura County, California. She grew up in West Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where she received a Master’s Degree in Science.
Her first novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine. Her second novel, His Name Was Ben, originally written as an award winning short story while she was in college and later expanded into a novel, rose to bestseller lists its second week out. Her third novel, To Live Out Loud, won international critical acclaim and made it to multiple sites as favorite read book of 2015. Her fourth book, The Seven Year Dress, made it to the bestseller lists for literary fiction and historical fiction on Amazon U.S., Amazon U.K. and Amazon Australia. Her fifth book, The Day I Saw The Hummingbird, was released in 2017 to rave reviews. Her sixth book, A Different Kind of Angel, was released in the summer of 2018 also to rave reviews.
Semi-retired, she continues to work part-time as a Nurse Practitioner in Ventura County. When she’s not writing, she does pro-bono consultation work with women with cancer, works in the Westminster Free Clinic as a volunteer provider, volunteers as a mediator in the Ventura County Courthouse for small claims cases, and involves herself, along with her husband, in dog rescue. Profits from her books go to help rescue dogs from kill shelters.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her, NetGalley, and the author for this opportunity.
I have been following the author over the years, have checked her blog on occasions, and have read many positive reviews of her novels. I am sure that several of her novels are on my e-reader already, and after reading this one, I will make sure I locate them and put them on my “sooner-rather-than-later” to-be-read list. This is a novelised account of a real event that took place during WWII, one that I didn’t know anything about before I read the novel, but I will never forget now. I don’t hesitate to recommend this book to all readers, those who love fiction and those who prefer non-fiction, as it should be read. Due to the events that take place, this is not an easy read (it is hard, harrowing, and emotional), so I would recommend caution to readers who are not in the right place or frame of mind to read about such subjects.
It is impossible not to think about the war and its victims these days, and that makes this narration more poignant and urgent than ever. We should never forget what happened because we all know what happens to those who forget. I will not spend too much time on the plot, as the book description provides plenty of information, and anybody interested can research what is known of what happened on that day, the 10th of June of 1944 in Oradour-sur-Glane. The author includes a disclaimer, where she explains that the book is a work of fiction, and other than the historical characters included, the rest is her attempt at fitting what is known to have happened into a narrative. Her research shines through, and, to clarify matters even more, together with her disclaimer, the author includes a Glossary of Terms and Historical Figures, a list of the German military ranks used in the novel, of the organizations and political groupings, and of the locations, and also the translation of a few German terms used in the book (when the translation is not included in the text itself) right at the beginning of the book. There is also a postnote that explains what happened afterwards, to the village and at the trial of a few of those involved in the onslaught.
Mahurin manages to recreate Oradour for us. Through the locations, the characters, and the events that take place there, we get a good sense of what a lovely place it was, a peaceful village in the German-controlled part of France, where life goes on almost undisturbed, although there are also things happening that remind the inhabitants of the war, and there is a sense of dread hanging over the proceedings. The beauty is in the detail: we see characters going about their jobs and their lives (the doctor, who is also the mayor, looks after his patients, and so does one of his sons, also a doctor; the priest is involved in welfare and also tries to help families in need [Jewish families escaping the Nazi regime among others]; we have mechanics; we have farmers; we have teachers; we have children; we have hard-working mothers…) and we have people who know each other and who do what they can to help others, their family, their neighbours, their friends, and also the newcomers who need help. This is an ensemble novel, and although we perhaps learn more about some characters than others (like Marguerite, who is exhausted by farm work —among other things— and manages to find her perfect role in helping the priest with his church work and his other tasks, or the mayor, the priest, and even others who don’t live in the village, like the head of the Maquis du Limousin…), this is a novel about a community, where everybody has a part to play, as must have been the case at the real Oradour. The shock of that normality, where nothing out of the ordinary had happened, being interrupted by the senseless massacre, has a devastating effect upon us, and it is not surprising to read how the people in the village were totally stunned and unable to believe what was going on.
The author writes beautifully about the place, the people, their lives, and their customs, and despite the horrific tragedy that eventually unfolds, there are incredibly beautiful passages as well. Plenty of happy and inspiring moments fill up the pages of this novel, and, the choice of a third-person omniscient point of view works very well for the story, as it allows us to see and understand how the different characters feel and what their lives are like, and it also shows us some of the events that preceded the massacre (although the reasons, as the author explains, have never been fully explained, and there are only a variety of conjectures historians have proposed over the years). We do see and follow what the Germans do as well, and the third-person narrative plays a pretty neutral observer’s role, not overdramatising events because it is totally unnecessary. It leaves it up to the readers to make their own minds up, experience the events, and feel the emotions. And that makes it even more moving and poignant.
A couple of samples of the writing:
May moved along with goodwill radiating warmth through Oradour like a hot bath soothing a stiff body on a frigid day.
Then he thought of the plans he’d heard to make the ruins into an untouched museum. To leave everything as is. Wistfully, words flowed from him like a feather floating through air when he said, “That magical place is a reminder of the living people who lived there in harmony.”
This is not a mystery novel, and we know what is going to happen (what really happened, not the details, but the bare facts), so the ending of the story is not, in itself, surprising, but I felt it was perfect. There was a hopeful note, but a somewhat bittersweet one, as the postnote reminds us of how many crimes of war are never solved, properly investigated, or even truly acknowledged.
I have already recommended the novel to all readers (with a note of warning), in particular to those interested in stories set in WWII in France, both fictional and non-fictional; to those who enjoy reading beautifully written books with a historical theme, and to anybody who likes to learn about real events, especially those that affect us all and should never be forgotten. I was inspired to read more about the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, and discovered that 19 of the victims were Spaniards (11 of them children), refugees who had escaped from Spain during the Civil War to avoid the fascist reprisals by Franco’s regime. After that, it felt even more personal, if that were possible. What else can I tell you? Read it, if at all you can. I have learned something I won’t forget and discovered a writer I will carry on reading for a long time to come.
Thanks to Rosie and all the members of her team, thanks to the author and to NetGalley, and thanks to all of you for reading, for sharing, for liking, for commenting…
Oh, before I forget. For those of you who read Spanish and might be interested in my comment about my research into the subject, I share an article I found.
Thanks, keep cool, and keep smiling!