The Good Liar

Overview

The year is 1940...and France has fallen to the German army. But to Marcel and his two older brothers, Pierre and René, the war seems far away from their tiny village of Mont-Saint-Martin. They spend a happy summer fishing, playing soliers, and holding contest to see who is the biggest lier. Then the Germans occupy their village — and Marcel and his brothers learn who is the best liar of them all.

Now an old man living in the United States, Marcel recalls his ...

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Overview

The year is 1940...and France has fallen to the German army. But to Marcel and his two older brothers, Pierre and René, the war seems far away from their tiny village of Mont-Saint-Martin. They spend a happy summer fishing, playing soliers, and holding contest to see who is the biggest lier. Then the Germans occupy their village — and Marcel and his brothers learn who is the best liar of them all.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fiction REPRINTS "Neither saint nor hero nor villain, Fat Marcel endures the WWII German occupation of his rural French village with boyish spirits," said PW. "Maguire develops his characters and setting with insight and vigor." Ages 8-12. (June) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Judy Silverman
Three brothers living in a small town in France during World War Two think that their idyllic lives will last forever. Their family is Catholic, after all. But the coming of Nazi soldiers changes all that. The youngest of the brothers, Marcel, eight years old when the book begins, is the narrator of this story that would be charming if it weren't about this terrible time. Marcel doesn't really understand why the rabbi and his entire congregation have disappeared, and he certainly doesn't understand why Miriam Cauverian and her mother have come to their house to stay. And why they suddenly disappear, too. The book is written as if it were an answer to a child's request for information from "someone old," for a school assignment. That makes the story more real, and moves it along quickly.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Three girls doing a school assignment on World War II write a letter to an artist they've seen on TV when they learn he grew up in the Loire Valley of France during the war. Marcel Delarue responds to their questions by telling his family's story, which is the basis of this novel. Marcel, his two brothers, and his mother lead ordinary rural lives, enlivened by the boys' favorite game-telling outrageous lies. The German occupation has only a minimal impact on them, at least at first. The major disruption for them is the arrival of their Uncle Anton and two of his friends. Madame Cauverian and her daughter are Jews who are trying to get out of the country, but are delayed by the girl's illness. While nothing overt has yet happened to France's Jewish population, the woman is convinced they are in danger. When a rabbi and his followers are rounded up, this fear is confirmed. Later, when Marcel and his brother Ren are told that the guests have left, their mother makes a scene in the local market, storming at the soldiers about taking them away, when in reality she is hiding them. In the meantime, the boys have secretly befriended a German soldier. The lies mount up, until finally the best liar of all is revealed. The strength of this book is its portrayal of the quiet heroism of ordinary citizens during the war. It is, by turns, amusing and gripping, and told in an engaging manner.-Linda Greengrass, Bank Street College Library, New York City Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Horn Book Magazine
For a school project, three students must interview an elderly individual about his or her experiences during World War II; they manage to track down M. Delarue, a landscape painter who lived in France as a child. His memory triggered by the questions of his young interrogators, he writes a long letter, divided into sections, about life in his small village after its occupation by German troops. The device is effective, permitting the individual chapters to emerge as self-contained vignettes while retaining a sense of overall unity. There is a plot, the resolution of which is gradually revealed as M. Delarue and his brothers mature. Having prided themselves on escaping the consequences of their escapades by being accomplished liars, they now must learn that truth has many facets, and that charity sometimes requires that it be concealed. The initial chapters are filled with the details of boyhood shenanigans-from spilling a precious bucket of milk to "liberating" prize irises from the convent garden. Yet a darker tone pervades the narrative, rising to a crescendo in the final pages when the narrator and his brother Ren, learn not only why their secret friendship with a German soldier cannot continue but also the surprising identity of the most accomplished liar of them all. Although easy to read, the book is sophisticated in concept. At once poignant and thoughtful, laced with humor, it offers readers an unusual perspective on history.
Christine Hepperman
Maguire's framing device is clunky, and he tends to summarize rather than allow readers to make connections on their own. Nonetheless, he does an excellent job of conveying his characters' humanity, their flaws, and their vulnerabilities, in his almost folkloric storytelling style.
Riverbank Review
Kirkus Reviews
Maguire (Five Alien Elves, 1998, etc.) frames a story of life in occupied France during WWII within a contemporary letter that changes the lives of both the writer and the recipients. Marcel and his two older brothers, René and Pierre, live a simple life in their small French village. They fish, play war games, and tell imaginative lies to add zest to the days. When René and Marcel strike up a friendship with a German soldier during the summer of 1942, they unwittingly imperil their family; their mother has been hiding in her home a Jewish woman and her daughter for a year while pretending that the two had been taken away by the Nazis. The boys, so proud of their abilities to tell lies, find out that their mother is the best liar of all. The clever frame allows Marcel to reminisce in context; his narrative is engrossing from the start. Maguire paints Marcel's confusing, childlike feelings with immediacy, and the atmospheric prose expertly juxtaposes the idylls of boyhood with the dark reality of WWII. In fact, in the end the letter-writer determines that his life was not as golden as he had imagined. Humorous, sad, involving vignettes comprise the short, fast-paced chapters that add up to a tale that seems more vivid memoir than invented. (Fiction. 9-12)
From the Publisher
For a school project, three students must interview an elderly individual about his or her experiences during World War II; they manage to track down M. Delarue, a landscape painter who lived in France as a child. His memory triggered by the questions of his young interrogators, he writes a long letter, divided into sections, about life in his small village after its occupation by German troops. The device is effective, permitting the individual chapters to emerge as self-contained vignettes while retaining a sense of overall unity. There is a plot, the resolution of which is gradually revealed as M. Delarue and his brothers mature. Having prided themselves on escaping the consequences of their escapades by being accomplished liars, they now must learn that truth has many facets, and that charity sometimes requires that it be concealed. The initial chapters are filled with the details of boyhood shenanigans-from spilling a precious bucket of milk to "liberating" prize irises from the convent garden. Yet a darker tone pervades the narrative, rising to a crescendo in the final pages when the narrator and his brother Ren‚ learn not only why their secret friendship with a German soldier cannot continue but also the surprising identity of the most accomplished liar of them all. Although easy to read, the book is sophisticated in concept. At once poignant and thoughtful, laced with humor, it offers readers an unusual perspective on history.
Horn Book

"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.
Booklist, ALA

March 22, 1999 Publishers Weekly, Starred

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780064408745
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/28/2002
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 144
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.62 (h) x 0.28 (d)

Meet the Author

Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire is the popular author of many books for children, including the Hamlet Chronicles for Clarion, as well as several adult books, including WICKED (HarperCollins), upon which a Broadway musical was based, and its sequel, CONFESSIONS OF AN UGLY STEPSISTER (Regan Books). He lives in Concord, Massachusetts.

Biography

Raised in a family of writers (his father was a journalist and his stepmother a poet), Gregory Maguire grew up with a great love of books, especially fairy tales and fantasy fiction. He composed his own stories from an early age and released his first book for children, The Lightning Time, in 1978, just two years after graduating from the State University of New York at Albany.

Several other children's book followed, but major recognition eluded Maguire. Then, in 1995, he published his first adult novel. A bold, revisionist view of Frank L. Baum's classic Oz stories, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West places one of literature's most reviled characters at the center of a dark dystopian fantasy and raises provocative questions about the very nature of good and evil. Purists criticized Maguire for tampering with a beloved juvenile classic, but the book received generally good reviews (John Updike, writing in The New Yorker, proclaimed it "an amazing novel.") and the enthusiasm of readers catapulted it to the top of the bestseller charts. (Maguire's currency increased even further when the book was turned into the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Wicked in 2003.)

In the wake of his breakthrough novel, Maguire has made something of a specialty out of turning classic children's tales on their heads. He retold the legends of Cinderella and Snow White in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (1999) and Mirror, Mirror (2003); he raised the ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge in Lost (2001); and, in 2005, he returned to Oz for Son of a Witch, the long-awaited sequel to Wicked. He has reviewed fantasy fiction for the Sunday New York Times Book Review and has contributed his own articles, essays, and stories to publications like Ploughshares, The Boston Review, the Christian Science Monitor, and The Horn Book Magazine.

In addition, Maguire has never lost his interest in -- or enthusiasm for -- children's literature. He is the author of The Hamlet Chronicles, a bestselling seven-book series of high-camp mystery-adventures with silly count-down titles like Seven Spiders Spinning and Three Rotten Eggs. He has taught at the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and is a founding member of Children's Literature New England (CLNE), a nonprofit organization that focuses attention on the significance of literature in the lives of children.

Good To Know

In our interview, Maguire shared some fun facts with us about his life:

"While I pride myself on trying to be creative in all areas of my life, I have occasionally gone overboard, like the time I decided to bring to a party a salad that I constructed, on a huge rattan platter, to look like a miniature scale model of the Gardens of Babylon. I built terraces with chunks of Monterey jack, had a forest of broccoli florets and a lagoon of Seven Seas salad dressing spooned into a half a honeydew melon. I made reed patches out of scallion tips and walkways out of sesame seeds lined with raisin borders. Driving to the party, I had to brake to avoid a taxi, and by the time the police flagged me down for poor driving skills I was nearly weeping. ‘But Officer, I have a quickly decomposing Hanging Gardens of Babylon to deliver....' Everything had slopped and fallen over and it looked like a tray of vegetable garbage."

"My first job was scooping ice cream at Friendly's in Albany, New York. I hated the work, most of my colleagues, and the uniform, and I more or less lost my taste for ice cream permanently."

"If I hadn't been a writer, I would have tried to be one of the following: An artist (watercolors), a singer/songwriter like Paul Simon (taller but not very much more), an architect (domestic), a teacher. Actually, in one way or another I have done all of the above, but learned pretty quickly that my skills needed more honing for me to charge for my services, and I'd always rather write fiction than hone skills."

"I steal a bit from one of my favorite writers to say, simply, that I enjoy, most of all, old friends and new places. I love to travel. Having small children at home now impedes my efforts a great deal, but I have managed in my time to get to Asia, Africa, most of Europe, and Central America. My wish list of places not yet visited includes India, Denmark, Brazil, and New Zealand, and my wish for friends not yet made includes, in a sense, readers who are about to discover my work, either now or even when I'm no longer among the living. In a sense, in anticipation, I value those friends in a special way."

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    1. Hometown:
      Boston, Massachusetts
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 9, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Albany, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., SUNY at Albany, 1976; M.A., Simmons College, 1978; Ph.D., Tufts University, 1990
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Letter

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.
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