Riding, a former European cultural correspondent for the New York Times, recounts Parisian life under the Nazi swastika and the forced compromises of French writers, artists, and performers under Hitler's rule. Riding's clear-eyed account lifts the veil on the moral and artistic choices for those who stayed and were forced to decide whether to resist, collaborate, or compromise somewhere in between. Publisher Gaston Gallimard let a German-selected editor run his prestigious Nouvelle Revue Française; in turn, he was able to publish books by authors unsympathetic to the Nazis. While the American government lobbied for emergency visas for gifted refugees who didn't flee to Switzerland or North Africa, some artists and performers hid or performed in cabarets or clubs with non-Aryan restrictions. Maurice Chevalier traveled to Germany to perform for French POWs and was seen by some as a collaborator worthy of death. Among the best examinations of occupied life under the Third Reich, Riding's (Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans) eloquent book speaks of the swift executions of traitors and the women disgraced by having their heads shaved, but admits that the French embraced the myth of national resistance and pushed the Occupation out of their minds. 16 pages of photos. (Oct.)
Riding (former European cultural correspondent, New York Times) frames his narrative within a larger philosophical context: the role of the artist in troubled times. Interested in the question of how artists react to repression, he focuses on German-occupied Paris during World War II. With exhaustive research, including personal interviews with many who experienced these years and stories from heralded figures like Edith Piaf, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, André Malraux, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, he examines the cultural life of Paris before, during, and after the occupation. Riding also explains the competing goals of the Vichy government, which sought to show that the French were not defeated culturally, and the German occupiers, who aimed to break French domination of international cultural life while shaping French culture to Nazi dictates. Thus, for different reasons, French culture survived. The occupiers wanted to be entertained and Parisians wanted to be distracted. In pondering the legacy of the period, Riding concludes that those who escaped and those who died left room for new talent to replace them, albeit in a postwar world in which cultural predominance shifted away from Paris. VERDICT This engrossing work, rich in detail, should appeal to French historians and serious readers interested in 20th-century cultural history.—Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ
FormerNew York Times European cultural correspondent Riding (Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans, 1984) explores a troubling issue in modern history: the behavior of French artists, performers and writers during the Nazi occupation of Paris.
The author begins in June 1940, when "the German army drove into Paris unopposed," then provides a quick explanation of how Paris became a magnet for artists and intellectuals in the aftermath of World War I—and how the unstable French governments softened the soil for fascism. Returning to the Nazis, Riding describes how the French scrambled to hide, sometimes successfully, their art treasures from the invaders. He notes how Joseph Goebbels and others believed that keeping Parisian culture alive would help pacify the French—and he proved prescient. Throughout the occupation, plays, operas and concerts continued; poets and novelists and journalists wrote; painters painted; dancers danced; filmmakers filmed—all with a deadly difference, however. Jews were erased, anti-fascists were arrested, and sometimes executed, and publications and productions had to submit to Nazi censorship. As Riding demonstrates in this startling cultural history, many writers and artists sold their services to the fascists for reasons ranging from simple survival to solidarity with the Germans (after the war, the French dealt harshly with most of the latter). He examines a plethora of individual cases, including Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Josephine Baker, Chevalier, Piaf, Cocteau, Sartre, Genet, Camus, Saint-Exupéry and the collaborating Céline. The author also retells the heroic story of American Varian Fry, who struggled to save French artists; examines underground publications; and reveals that the resistance was never as pervasive as postwar mythology maintained.
A stark account of how we act when evil enters our door.
Thirty years ago, while reporting on Latin America…Alan Riding began wondering how artists and writers responded to brutal dictatorships. He then went to live in Paris and realized that not so long before, the French intellectual and cultural elite had provided an answer, in often unlovely ways. And the Show Went On describes this history in gripping and painful detail…We'll always have Paris, but we may not feel quite the same about it after reading…[Riding's] enthralling and disturbing book…
The New York Times
Riding's triumph lies in refusing to affirm any simplistic answers. Instead, he plunges the reader into the French cultural scene of the 1930s and '40s and shows us how real men and real women dealt with the devil.
The Washington Post
"A stark account of how we act when evil enters our door." Kirkus