An Officer and a Spy

( 22 )

Overview

NATIONAL BESTSELLER 

Winner of the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction

A whistle-blower.  A witch hunt. A cover-up. Secret tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, and government corruption. Welcome to 1890s Paris.
 
Alfred Dreyfus has been convicted of treason, sentenced to life imprisonment on a far-off island, and publicly stripped of his rank....

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Overview

NATIONAL BESTSELLER 

Winner of the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction

A whistle-blower.  A witch hunt. A cover-up. Secret tribunals, out-of-control intelligence agencies, and government corruption. Welcome to 1890s Paris.
 
Alfred Dreyfus has been convicted of treason, sentenced to life imprisonment on a far-off island, and publicly stripped of his rank. Among the witnesses to his humiliation is Georges Picquart, an ambitious military officer who believes in Dreyfus's guilt as staunchly as any member of the public. But when he is promoted to head of the French counter-espionage agency, Picquart finds evidence that a spy still remains at large in the military—indicating that Dreyfus is innocent. As evidence of the most malignant deceit mounts and spirals inexorably toward the uppermost levels of government, Picquart is compelled to question not only the case against Dreyfus but also his most deeply held beliefs about his country, and about himself. 

Winner of the 2014 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Like most of his countrymen, George Picquart is convinced that Captain Alfred Dreyfus has guilty of espionage, but as the recently promoted chief of French counterespionage, he is also in a unique position to reevaluate his views. His chance discovery of documents stolen from the German embassy convinced him that Dreyfus had not been the traitor spy, leading him to secretly reopen a case that the government had wished was forever closed. Based on an important historical episode, this novel carries not only that stamp of authenticity, but also the talented storytelling ability of Robert Harris, the author of Pompeii and Fatherland.

The New York Times Book Review - Louis Begley
Robert Harris, in his fine novel An Officer and a Spy, lucidly retells the famous, bizarrely complicated and chilling story…Drawing on the vast trove of books about the [Dreyfus] affair and some newly available materials, Harris tells a gripping tale.
Publishers Weekly
★ 11/18/2013
Harris (Fatherland) provides easily the best fictional treatment of the Dreyfus Affair yet, in this gripping thriller told from the vantage point of French army officer Georges Picquart. Major Picquart is present on the day in 1895 that Alfred Dreyfus is publicly degraded as a traitor to his country, before his exile to Devil’s Island. Soon afterward, Picquart is promoted to colonel, to assume command of the Statistical Section, which is actually the army’s espionage unit. Picquart comes across evidence of another traitor spying for the Germans, and his investigation uncovers something unsettling: the handwriting of the spy, Walsin Esterhazy, is a perfect match for the writing on the letters that the French government claimed were from Dreyfus. Furthermore, review of the classified evidence against the exile reveals nothing of substance. Picquart pursues the truth, at personal and professional risk, in the face of superiors eager to preserve the official version of events. Harris perfectly captures the rampant anti-Semitism that led to Dreyfus’s scapegoating, and effectively uses the present tense to lend intimacy to the narrative. First printing of 100,000. Agent: Michael Carlisle, Inkwell Management. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-03
Labyrinthine machinations having to do with the Dreyfus Affair, the late 19th-century spy case that disclosed a latent anti-Semitism in French culture. The main character and narrator of Harris' novel is Col. Georges Picquart, former professor of topography at the École supérieure de guerre in Paris. While on the surface, topography might seem a peripheral issue to the military, according to Picquart, it involves "the fundamental science of war," since it requires surveying terrain and generally looking at landscape from a military perspective. Chosen to head a counterespionage agency looking into the crimes allegedly committed by Dreyfus, Picquart has already been rewarded with a nice promotion and seems convinced of Dreyfus' guilt. But in investigating the case, Picquart begins to have doubts about this guilt and is fairly sure espionage is continuing through Maj. Esterhazy, a Germany spy who's been passing along the secrets Dreyfus has been accused of disclosing. Military officials are not pleased that Picquart is coming up with evidence that might exonerate Dreyfus since, by this time, Dreyfus has already been convicted and condemned to spend time on Devil's Island, recently reopened solely for him. Gen. Gonse, for example, cautions Picquart not to be overly enthusiastic in his inquiries concerning Dreyfus since, after all, he's already been convicted and so his guilt is proved. Public opinion, alas, is on the side of Gonse, for much of the population, inflamed by the popular press, already sees Dreyfus as a traitor and delights in conveying their virulent anti-Semitism. Espionage, counterespionage, a scandalous trial, a coverup and a man who tries to do right make this a complex and alluring thriller.
From the Publisher
British National Book Awards—Popular Fiction Book of the Year

 “Outstanding . . . Finds its chilling thrills in the unlikeliest of places.” —USA Today

“[A] superb historical thriller. . . . Thick with scenes of code-breaking, covert surveillance, hairsbreadth escapes and violent death.” —The Wall Street Journal
 
“Harris has, with this novel, taken [Le Carré’s] place as the master of making documents and scraps of paper, the details of painstaking intelligence work, into drama. ” —The Daily Beast
 
“[Harris] outdoes himself. The period details are pitch-perfect . . . and the action pulses with intensity.” —The Miami Herald

“A gripping tale.” —The New York Times

“Mesmerizing. . . . The Dreyfus affair remains astonishing, and this exceptional piece of popular fiction does it justice.”
    —The Washington Post

“A thrilling page-turner. . . . Thick with espionage, daring and cruel turns of fate.”
    —New York Daily News

“A crisp, fast-paced drama. . . . From one of the great scandals of the late 19th century, Harris has written a novel which is true to the facts, scrupulously so, but reads like a combination of Le Carré at his best and Conan Doyle writing about Sherlock Holmes.”
    —The Daily Beast

“Robert Harris’s novel speaks to our times in its examination of the potential dangers of military intelligence.”
    —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“A compelling narrative of state corruption. . . . While finely attuned to modern resonances of surveillance, cultural identity and patriotic loyalty, Harris stays true to the atmosphere and morals of the period.”
    —The Guardian (UK)

“A master storyteller at the top of his game. . . . The echoes of our own time are deafening. But Harris is far too smart to labor the point. He just drives his story forward, marshalling his cast of fools and knaves, soldiers and spies, dodgy handwriting experts and discreet mistresses, to superlative effect.”
    —Mail on Sunday (UK)

“Claustrophobically gripping. . . . Written in elegant prose reminiscent of the 19th-century historical novel, but its form is a hybrid of the contemporary thriller, the spy novella and the courtroom drama. It is persuasive and engaging on all of these levels, while providing a unique and fresh reading of the Dreyfus affair.”
    —The Irish Times

“Instantly absorbing. . . . Great for fans of Ken Follett, John le Carré, Louis Bayard, Caleb Carr, and Martin Cruz Smith.”
    —Booklist (starred review)

“Easily the best fictional treatment of the Dreyfus Affair. . . . Harris perfectly captures the rampant anti-Semitism that led to Dreyfus’s scapegoating.”
    —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Espionage, counterespionage, a scandalous trial, a cover-up, and a man who tries to do right make this a complex and alluring thriller.”
    —Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
01/01/2014
Harris's best-selling 1992 fiction breakout, Fatherland, portrayed an alternate history in which Germany won World War II and a questioning protagonist uncovered uncomfortable facts about his country. His latest book involves a similar theme but depicts a very real historical event, the infamous Dreyfus Affair. The tale is told by Maj. Georges Picquart, a rising star in the French military circa 1895. Shortly after he witnesses the public humiliation and imprisonment of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer accused of treason, the major is appointed head of the "Statistical Section," the country's blandly named spy agency. An adept student of spycraft, Picquart soon becomes aware of other plots to sell French secrets. He also discovers that his predecessor's case against Dreyfus was shockingly weak, but no one in the complacent, corrupt, and frequently anti-Semitic government wants to hear the truth. Picquart is a fascinating protagonist and narrator, personally flawed but determined to pursue the truth even when government resistance threatens his career, his life, and everyone around him. His story draws an uncomfortable parallel to current events; as Valerie Plame, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange can attest, 21st-century governments still resent troublemakers who reveal embarrassing truths. VERDICT This is an atmospheric and tense historical thriller, with a flawed but honorable protagonist fighting against entrenched complacence and bigotry.—Bradley Scott, Corpus Christie, TX
The Barnes & Noble Review

Robert Harris's An Officer and a Spy, a novel based on the Dreyfus Affair, is a brilliant and audacious example of the sort of historical novel that would have been inconceivable until relatively recently. Going beyond costume drama and period effects, it enters deeply into the lives and thoughts of real people, an authorial license I believe is owing to a changed idea of what history is. In the olden days — which is to say from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-1960s — history was generally considered to be made up of facts. Novels set in the past were fine, but attributing invented words and thoughts to real historical figures — beyond the likes of Roman emperors, French kings, and Bonny Prince Charlie — struck right-thinking people as a violation of truth. But today, broadly speaking, history has moved from fact to point of view — or put another way, history is understood to be rhetoric, a form of persuasion, and facts don't seem so factual anymore.

The whole matter is open to infinite argument and refinement, of course, but try to imagine Gore Vidal's Burr and the rest of his Narratives of Empire series, William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner, Beryl Bainbridge's Young Adolf, James Elroy's American Tabloid, T. C. Boyle's The Circle, or Colum McCann's TransAtlantic written before the 1960s. Impossible.

An Officer and a Spy purports to be the actual French army officer Georges Picquart's account of the events that make up the Dreyfus Affair from 1894 to 1906. Harris's Picquart moves through fin-de-siècle Paris, a prosperous capital city with a flourishing avant-garde movement, a happily decadent demimonde, and a rambunctious press; but this is also a city that has not gotten over the humiliation of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and the subsequent annexation of Alsace and Lorraine by Germany. It is, in addition, a city riven by enmities — in part the legacy of the Commune — between the conservative forces of Army and Church and those of liberal Republicans. Moreover, fear of Germany and its machinations is driving France into what will turn out to be a disastrous treaty with Russia and, of signal importance to this story, feeding an obsession with spies. Pervading Harris's portrait of Paris is deep-dyed French anti- Semitism and, appropriately enough, a strong smell of sewage.

What became known as the Dreyfus Affair began with the discovery — from a ripped-up note retrieved from the German ambassador's trash — that a French officer was passing military secrets to the Germans. In an army rife with anti- Semitism, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew as well as a native of Alsace (thus supposedly German in sympathies) became a gratifying target. He was especially attractive to the minister of war, General Mercier, who, in Harris's telling, hoped that the conviction of a German Jew would be so popular as to propel him into the presidency. Dreyfus, found guilty based on secret "evidence" withheld from the defense on the grounds of national security, was subjected to a ritual of public "degradation" and given a life sentence of solitary confinement on Devil's Island. "It is," Harris's Picquart reflects, "as if all the loathing and recrimination bottled up since the defeat of 1870 has found an outlet in a single individual."

A year later, we find Picquart mid-course in what looks to be a stellar military career, now in command of the Army's counter- espionage unit — where he happens upon evidence showing that Dreyfus is innocent. This appalling discovery and the persistent agitation from the Dreyfus family and their supporters lead him to believe that the man's innocence is sure to come out and that the army should admit its mistake, adhering to the "basic military principle: that we should be the ones taking the initiative, while there still time." Met with various forms of stonewalling from his colleagues and superiors, Picquart investigates further, uncovering the actual spy and an ever-deepening conspiracy to sacrifice Dreyfus. What to do?

Harris, whose novels revel in the question of whether it is possible to be moral in public life, creates the moment when it finally gets through to Picquart — who has shown himself to be just the tiniest bit of a lickspittle — what the nature of an organization like the army really is: Those who have made their careers in it are not only stupidly shortsighted but put the preservation of the organization's reputation, which amounts to their own power, above all else. Picquart presents his direct superior, General Gonse, with a final argument for the army coming clean and is told simply to dummy up, the general expostulating, " 'I'm not asking you to lie! I'd never do that. I know you are a man of honour. I'm not asking you to do anything, in point of fact. I'm merely asking you not to do something — not to go near the Dreyfus case. Is that so unreasonable, Georges?' He risks a little smile. 'After all, I know your views on the Chosen Race — really, when all is said and done, what does it matter to you if one Jew stays on Devil's Island?' " Gonse's risking that little smile, so suggestive of the sickening undertow of attempted co-option, is typical of Harris's genius for conveying the texture of the fleeting situations of which history is made.

Picquart eventually suffers the fate of whistleblowers, even to our own day, and is thrown into prison. The dark irony of the other developments is almost incredible, in the novel and in reality: The army, forced to bring the actual spy to trial, determinedly finds him not guilty despite all evidence to the contrary. (To do otherwise would, perforce, exonerate Dreyfus and demonstrate the army's blunder at best, perfidy at worst.) Dreyfus, tried for a second time, is once more found guilty, on no credible evidence.

After all this and in the face of growing anti-Semitic popular opinion, it approaches a miracle that the efforts of the Dreyfus family, Émile Zola, and the rest of the "Dreyfusards" prevailed and Dreyfus was released. Even knowing this from history doesn't reduce the narrative tension or make it seem in the least inevitable. Dreyfus's freedom came first on the expediency of a "pardon," and he was later fully exculpated, though never reinstated to what his military rank would have been had his life and career not been so grotesquely interrupted.

Harris's appetite for intrigue is evident throughout this deeply researched novel, as is his sardonic wit and his gift for plumbing the temper of personal encounters. He brings the story to an end in 1906 with an interview between Dreyfus, who has endured so much with so much dignity, and Picquart, fully restored, promoted to general, and elevated to the position of minister of war. In this concluding scene, which I shall leave you to discover and savor in all it bleakness, Harris adds a little tarnish to Picquart's halo and captures perfectly, as he does in so many of his novels, the canny, hard-nosed political animal.

Katherine A. Powers reviews books widely and has been a finalist for the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle. She is the editor of Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942–1963.

Reviewer: Katherine A. Powers

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385349581
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/2014
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 17,587
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 2.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Harris is the author of eight bestselling novels: Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium, The Ghost Writer, Conspirata, and The Fear Index. Several of his books have been adapted to film, most recently The Ghost Writer. Harris’s work has been translated into thirty-seven languages. He lives in the village of Kintbury, West Berkshire, with his wife, Gill Hornby.

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Read an Excerpt

1

Major Picquart to see the Minister of War . . .”

The sentry on the rue Saint-Dominique steps out of his box to open the gate and I run through a whirl of snow across the windy courtyard into the warm lobby of the hôtel de Brienne, where a sleek young captain of the Republican Guard rises to salute me. I repeat, with greater urgency: “Major Picquart to see the Minister of War . . . !”

We march in step, the captain leading, over the black-and-white marble of the minister’s official residence, up the curving staircase, past suits of silver armour from the time of Louis the Sun King, past that atrocious piece of Imperial kitsch, David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps at the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard, until we reach the first floor, where we halt beside a window overlooking the grounds and the captain goes off to announce my arrival, leaving me alone for a few moments to contemplate something rare and beautiful: a garden made silent by snow in the centre of a city on a winter’s morning. Even the yellow electric lights in the War Ministry, shimmering through the gauzy trees, have a quality of magic.

“General Mercier is waiting for you, Major.”

The minister’s office is huge and ornately panelled in duck-egg blue, with a double balcony over the whitened lawn. Two elderly men in black uniforms, the most senior officers in the Ministry of War, stand warming the backs of their legs against the open fire. One is General Raoul le Mouton de Boisdeffre, Chief of the General Staff, expert in all things Russian, architect of our burgeoning alliance with the new tsar, who has spent so much time with the Imperial court he has begun to look like a stiff-whiskered Russian count. The other, slightly older at sixty, is his superior: the Minister of War himself, General Auguste Mercier.

I march to the middle of the carpet and salute.

Mercier has an oddly creased and immobile face, like a leather mask. Occasionally I have the odd illusion that another man is watching me through its narrow eye-slits. He says in his quiet voice, “Well, Major Picquart, that didn’t take long. What time did it finish?”

“Half an hour ago, General.”

“So it really is all over?”

I nod. “It’s over.”

And so it begins.

“Come and sit down by the fire,” orders the minister. He speaks very quietly, as he always does. He indicates a gilt chair. “Pull it up. Take off your coat. Tell us everything that happened.”

He sits poised in expectation on the edge of his seat: his body bent forwards, his hands clasped, his forearms resting on his knees. Protocol has prevented him from attending the morning’s spectacle in person. He is in the position of an impresario who has missed his own show. He hungers for details: insights, observations, colour.

“What was the mood on the streets first thing?”

“I would say the mood was . . . expectant.”

I describe how I left my apartment in the predawn darkness to walk to the École Militaire, and how the streets, to begin with at least, were unusually quiet, it being a Saturday—“The Jewish Sabbath,” Mercier interrupts me, with a faint smile—and also freezing cold. In fact, although I do not mention this, as I passed along the gloomy pavements of the rue Boissière and the avenue du Trocadéro, I began to wonder if the minister’s great production might turn out to be a flop. But then I reached the pont de l’Alma and saw the shadowy crowd pouring across the dark waters of the Seine, and that was when I realised what Mercier must have known all along: that the human impulse to watch another’s humiliation will always prove sufficient insulation against even the bitterest cold.

I joined the multitude as they streamed southwards, over the river and down the avenue Bosquet—such a density of humanity that they spilled off the wooden pavements and into the street. They reminded me of a racecourse crowd—there was the same sense of shared anticipation, of the common pursuit of a classless pleasure. Newspaper vendors threaded back and forth selling the morning’s editions. An aroma of roasting chestnuts rose from the braziers on the roadside.

At the bottom of the avenue I broke away and crossed over to the École Militaire, where until a year before I had served as professor of topography. The crowd streamed on past me towards the official assembly point in the place de Fontenoy. It was beginning to get light. The École rang with the sound of drums and bugles, hooves and curses, shouted orders, the tramp of boots. Each of the nine infantry regiments quartered in Paris had been ordered to send two companies to witness the ceremony, one composed of experienced men, the other of new recruits whose moral fibre, Mercier felt, would benefit by this example. As I passed through the grand salons and entered the cour Morland, they were already mustering in their thousands on the frozen mud.

I have never attended a public execution, have never tasted that particular atmosphere, but I imagine it must feel something like the École did that morning. The vastness of the cour Morland provided an appropriate stage for a grand spectacle. In the distance, beyond the railings, in the semicircle of the place de Fontenoy, a great murmuring sea of pink faces stirred behind a line of black-uniformed gendarmes. Every centimetre of space was filled. People were standing on benches and on the tops of carriages and omnibuses; they were sitting in the branches of the trees; one man had even managed to scale the pinnacle of the 1870 war memorial.

Mercier, drinking all this up, asks me, “So how many were present, would you estimate?”

“The Préfecture of Police assured me twenty thousand.”

“Really?” The minister looks less impressed than I had expected. “You know that I originally wanted to hold the ceremony at Longchamps? The racetrack has a capacity of fifty thousand.”

Boisdeffre says flatteringly, “And you would have filled it, Minister, by the sound of it.”

“Of course we would have filled it! But the Ministry of the Interior maintained there was risk of public disorder. Whereas I say: the greater the crowd, the stronger the lesson.”

Still, twenty thousand seemed plenty to me. The noise of the crowd was subdued but ominous, like the breathing of some powerful animal, temporarily quiescent but which could turn dangerous in an instant. Just before eight, an escort of cavalry appeared, trotting along the front of the crowd, and suddenly the beast began to stir, for between the riders could be glimpsed a black prison wagon drawn by four horses. A wave of jeers swelled and rolled over it. The cortège slowed, a gate was opened, and the vehicle and its guard clattered over the cobbles into the École.

As I watched it disappear into an inner courtyard, a man standing near to me said, “Observe, Major Picquart: the Romans fed Christians to the lions; we feed them Jews. That is progress, I suppose.”

He was swaddled in a greatcoat with the collar turned up, a grey muffler around his throat, his cap pulled low over his eyes. I recognised him by his voice at first, and then by the way his body shook uncontrollably.

I saluted. “Colonel Sandherr.”

Sandherr said, “Where will you stand to watch the show?”

“I haven’t thought about it.”

“You’re welcome to come and join me and my men.”

“That would be an honour. But first I have to check that everything is proceeding in accordance with the minister’s instructions.”

“We will be over there when you have finished your duties.” He pointed across the cour Morland with a trembling hand. “You will have a good view.”

My duties! I wonder, looking back, if he wasn’t being sarcastic. I walked over to the garrison office, where the prisoner was in the custody of Captain Lebrun-Renault of the Republican Guard. I had no desire to see the condemned man again. Only two years earlier he had been a student of mine in this very building. Now I had nothing to say to him; I felt nothing for him; I wished he had never been born and I wanted him gone—from Paris, from France, from Europe. A trooper went and fetched Lebrun-Renault for me. He turned out to be a big, red-faced, horsey young man, rather like a policeman. He came out and reported: “The traitor is nervous but calm. I don’t think he will kick up any trouble. The threads of his clothing have been loosened and his sword has been scored half through to ensure it breaks easily. Nothing has been left to chance. If he tries to make a speech, General Darras will give a signal and the band will strike up a tune to drown him out.”

Mercier muses, “What kind of tune does one play to drown a man out, I wonder?”

Boisdeffre suggests, “A sea shanty, Minister?”

“That’s good,” says Mercier judiciously. But he doesn’t smile; he rarely smiles. He turns to me again. “So you watched the proceedings with Sandherr and his men. What do you make of them?”

Unsure how to answer—Sandherr is a colonel, after all—I say cautiously, “A dedicated group of patriots, doing invaluable work and receiving little or no recognition.”

It is a good answer. So good that perhaps my entire life—and with it the story I am about to tell—may have turned upon it. At any rate, Mercier, or the man behind the mask that is Mercier, gives me a searching look as if to check that I really mean what I say, and then nods in approval. “You’re right there, Picquart. France owes them a lot.”

All six of these paragons were present that morning to witness the culmination of their work: the euphemistically named “Statistical Section” of the General Staff. I sought them out after I had finished talking with Lebrun-Renault. They stood slightly apart from everyone else in the southwest corner of the parade ground, in the lee of one of the low surrounding buildings. Sandherr had his hands in his pockets and his head down, and seemed entirely remote—

“Do you remember,” interrupts the Minister of War, turning to Boisdeffre, “that they used to call Jean Sandherr ‘the handsomest man in the French Army’?”

“I do remember that, Minister,” confirms the Chief of the General Staff. “It’s hard to believe it now, poor fellow.”

On one side of Sandherr stood his deputy, a plump alcoholic with a face the colour of brick, taking regular nips from a gunmetal hip flask; on the other was the only member of his staff I knew by sight—the massive figure of Joseph Henry, who clapped me on the shoulder and boomed that he hoped I’d be mentioning him in my report to the minister. The two junior officers of the section, both captains, seemed colourless by comparison. There was also a civilian, a bony clerk who looked as if he seldom saw fresh air, holding a pair of opera glasses. They shifted along to make room for me and the alcoholic offered me a swig of his filthy cognac. Presently we were joined by a couple of other outsiders: a smart official from the Foreign Ministry, and that disturbing booby Colonel du Paty de Clam of the General Staff, his monocle flashing like an empty eye socket in the morning light.

By now the time was drawing close and one could feel the tension tightening under that sinister pale sky. Nearly four thousand soldiers had been drawn up on parade, yet not a sound escaped them. Even the crowd was hushed. The only movement came from the edges of the cour Morland, where a few invited guests were still being shown to their places, hurrying apologetically like latecomers at a funeral. A tiny slim woman in a white fur hat and muff, carrying a frilly blue umbrella and being escorted by a tall lieutenant of the dragoons, was recognised by some of the spectators nearest the railings, and a light patter of applause, punctuated by cries of “Hurrah!” and “Bravo!,” drifted over the mud.

Sandherr, looking up, grunted, “Who the devil is that?”

One of the captains took the opera glasses from the clerk and trained them on the lady in furs, who was now nodding and twirling her umbrella in gracious acknowledgement to the crowd.

“Well I’ll be damned if it isn’t the Divine Sarah!” He adjusted the binoculars slightly. “And that’s Rochebouet of the Twenty-eighth looking after her, the lucky devil!”

Mercier sits back and caresses his white moustache. Sarah Bernhardt, appearing in his production! This is the stuff he wants from me: the artistic touch, the society gossip. Still, he pretends to be displeased. “I can’t think who would have invited an actress . . .”

At ten minutes to nine, the commander of the parade, General Darras, rode out along the cobbled path into the centre of the parade ground. The general’s mount snorted and dipped her head as he pulled her up; she shuffled round in a circle, eyeing the vast multitude, pawed the hard ground once, and then stood still.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 27, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    This fictionalized chronology of L¿Affaire Dreyfus describes one

    This fictionalized chronology of L’Affaire Dreyfus describes one of the most appalling episodes in French history. It is told in the first person by Major (later Lt. Colonel) Georges Picquart, who played a minor role in the arrest of Captain Alfred Dreyfus for espionage and treason. Picquart acted as a Judas goat in bringing Dreyfus to his arrest and then served as the Minister of War’s eyes and ears at his ensuing trial and public disgrace.

    As a reward, Picquart was promoted and placed as the head of a secret spy agency where he ultimately learned of various discrepancies in the “evidence” which convicted Dreyfus before an army court martial. After initially believing in Dreyfus’ guilt, he then became convinced of his innocence and spent years, much to his misfortune, attempting to free the convict and clear his name, even himself ending up in prison and being forced out of his beloved army.

    The role of the establishment, the generals, the lies and cover-ups even after the truth is known is related in fine detail, as is the atmosphere of anti-Semitism prevalent in France which colored much of the Dreyfus case, since he, of course, was a Jew. The whole sordid affair followed soon after the French defeat in the Prussian French war and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, and was a forerunner of the First and Second World Wars. The author’s diligent research and fluid language prevail in a gripping recount of a well-known story, and is told with much poignancy, in an understated tone that makes history come alive.

    Highly recommended.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2014

    Captivating story

    This is my first book by the author but will not be the last based on this story! I had a hard time putting it down and was totally drawn in to the plot. I would highly recommend this book!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Not as good a previous Harris work!

    Robert Harris has always written historical fiction that I have loved. Here he broaches the subject of a huge French spy conspiracy, that I admittedly had never heard about. While the late 1800s intrigue of the French spy game was interesting, there was little to no action. Because the readers are basically told early on that a certain character is not guilty there is little mystery. The courtroom drama was too long winded as the events are repeated sooooo many times that its tedious. The book wasn't bad but i was also not very good. Just a decent read about a very interesting topic. Robert Harris has done much more with much less.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2014

    Recommended reading for a Dreyfus case fan

    Well written; just wish I had some knowledge of the French language which would have been helpful!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 6, 2014

    Ro

    Okay sure, just not the weekends

    1 out of 38 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2014

    Q

    If u got locked out oh well

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2014

    Cloud

    Sure

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2014

    Spy

    There

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2014

    A very hood bpook Soulder and a spy

    A very good read Dificult to pronounc the Gernan names and keep up with all characters involved Highly recomend .Good history

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2014

    Great historical fiction

    Normally i dont love historical fiction because they speculate too much on thins that we could never really know. This author did a great jo of telling an amazing story and giving you a personal knowledge of the characters without over reaching

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  • Posted March 7, 2014

    Somewhat disappointing

    Have read about 20% and still am not in to it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2014

    A great read and based on a real story.

    I have heard of the Dreyfus affair for years, but didn't know what exactly it was. Now I know. This book was a page turner. Very good!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2014

    Jfjjdjxjx

    Njjd

    0 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2014

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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