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Mr. Gildea's considerable achievement is to blur the debate. — Alan Riding
What emerges from this fascinating mass of detail is the complexity and diversity of the French experience. A country addicted to centralization found itself cut in two by the "demarcation line," and Vichy's authority was never decisive in the occupied half. As a result, local "notables" (especially mayors, but also landowners, businesspeople, and religious leaders) acted as crucial intermediaries between officials, German or Vichyite, and the population. Gildea thoroughly treats the main issues: the problem of food, terrorism, the fate of the Jews, forced-labor conscription, conflicts between resisters and ordinary citizens afraid of reprisals, the turbulence of the liberation, the era of disappointment that followed it, and the bewildering clashes of memories that persist. His most interesting observation, however, is of how the occupation led not only to violence and hatredbetween the French and the Germans, but also to a complex mutual experiment in learning to live together — perhaps a crucial factor in postwar reconciliation and, eventually, European integration.