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Now an old man living in the United States, Marcel recalls his ...
Now an old man living in the United States, Marcel recalls his childhood in German-occupied France, especially the summer that he and his older brother Rene befriended a young German soldier.
"Humorous, sad, involving vignettes comprise the short, fast-paced chapters that add up to a tale that seems more vivid memoir than invented." Kirkus Reviews
Hoping for a good grade on their World War II project, three Florida girls write a letter of questions to Marcel Delarue, an artist who grew up in occupied France. In reply, he sends a long letter that becomes the text of this first-person novel. After he sketches in the background (a village in the middle of France), and the central characters (Marcel, his two brothers, and their mother), their story begins to unfold. The framework of the letters gradually disappears from readers' consciousness as Marcel's childhood observations and experiences become increasingly compelling. The three brothers are convincingly imperfect in their actions, childlike in their attitudes, and human in their reactions to events and emotions. Marcel's innocent, often silly lies and escapades are eventually shadowed by the realization of certain misunderstood conversations and events that add up to a larger lie. Marcel's mother finally lets him in on the secret to keep him from unwittingly revealing it: for more than a year, a Jewish woman and her daughter have been hiding in a secret crawl space in their home, coming out only at night when the children are asleep. Quietly told, this absorbing story carries the conviction of memoir rather than invention. Another memorable story of World War II.
March 22, 1999 Publishers Weekly, Starred
It starts with Maman.
She was reading a letter, standing in the doorway of our house.
"Boys!" called Maman. "Boys, come here at once!"
We had finished schooling for the year, so we were playing in the garden. We came shouting and shoving up to the step on which she stood, page in hand. Even our dog Mirabeau came and waited with her tongue hanging.
"A letter," she said, "a letter you have to listen to." Her voice was firm and wavery at once, in a way we had never heard before. It made us nervous.
"Is it from Papa?" asked Pierre, who was the oldest, about twelve. He wore glasses and looked through them at things, like a lost baby owl. "'Is he coming home soon?"
"'It is not from Papa," said Maman, and she straightened her spine and threw her shoulders back. Papa was working somewhere far away, sending his pay home to us. We all missed him. Maman made a good effort not to show that she missed him, but we children knew that she did.
"Well who is it from?" asked René behind me, poking me in the ribs and pretending he hadn't. He looked all innocent when I turned around and scowled. René was the middle boy, about ten. He was a rascal: clever, impatient, full of fun and disobedience. He was blond and bony, always wearing through his shirtsleeves and the knees of his trousers.- I idolized him.
"It is from your uncle Anton." (The telephones had not yet gotten to us. Letter writing was the way we kept in touch.) "Uncle Anton lives in Montmartre, in Paris. Do you remember? Listen, boys, attend to me now. This is important. He writes that the German soldiers are headingtoward Paris. He writes that the German army swarmed through Belgium, and Holland a month ago, and they are now swarming through France. No one knows what will happen next."
Pierre looked sober and worried, and said, "This is bad." But René was impatient. "We already know this, Maman. We remember the day a few weeks ago. The church bell rang, and our studies were interrupted. War was declared! You went to church to pray, and we stayed at home and -were good boys."
"You were not good boys," scolded Maman, about to get distracted. "You were supposed to stay inside, and you went running through the ,lanes playing soldiers. The neighbors all complained about your noise. I was embarrassed, and I was angry that you lied to me when I came home. But that is not the point now. You have already been punished for that."
"I remember," said René, pretending his bum was still sore. Maman believed in spanking.
"Why don't we hear from Papa more often?" said Pierre, biting his upper lip.
"Pierre, attend," said Maman. She knew that even though Pierre was her oldest son, he was not very smart and he needed to be talked to very dearly. She continued: "René, stop acting like a monkey and listen. Marcel, even you need to hear this. Are you boys listening?"
"Yes, Maman," we said, trying to behave.
"Of course we're listening," said René dismissively, "but Marcel is too young to understand, and Pierre is too foolish, so you might as well just say it to me."
Maman hit him on the arm.
It was not unusual for René to be sassy. It was unusual for Maman to strike anyone, except for the occasional spanking on our rear ends. We stopped clowning around and listened. René rubbed his arm and sulked.
"Uncle Anton may be coming with some friends," she told us. "Some friends from Paris. A woman and her little girl. They may stay with us for a few days. I do not want you to tell anyone they are here. The Germans could be heading south after taking Paris. They might come through town and ask lots of questions. We will not say that Uncle Anton and his friends have come for a visit. We will especially not say anything in front of Madame Sevremont in the village store!"
"Why not?" we asked. Madame Sevremont was a toothless old gossip. Well-meaning, but dim as a hen. She sat in her chair at the doorway of her store looking out across the Place du 11 Novembre, and she saw everyone coming and going. She broadcast what she saw without shame or restraint. We liked her, and we didn't think very seriously about her.
"What our family does is no business of Madame Sevremont's," said Maman.
"But she always knows when everyone comes and goes in town," we said. Madame Sevremont served as a sort of volunteer message service.
"She cannot keep a secret," replied Maman. "Even when she snores, she blurts small private matters aloud."
"Really?" we said. "How do you know?"
"I am exaggerating to make a point," she said. "I mean that she has no self-control."
"You told a lie!" said René gleefully.
"René, will you attend!" said Maman, at the end of her patience. But she had lost us. We fell to giggling over Maman's exaggeration. With a little, bitten-off word of annoyance, Maman took the letter inside, to try again later, when we'd got over our silliness. When three boys are growing up in the same family, there is a lot of silliness, and sometimes it gets in the way of important matters.The Good Liar. Copyright © by Gregory Maguire. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.