Myers’ (Greek Bonds and French Ladies, 2013) historical novel explores Parisian politics on the eve of the Second World War.
Paris in 1937 and 1938 is a precarious place and time in history. The Popular Front, led by the socialist Léon Blum, is constantly under attack by reactionaries and can’t secure a stable hold on the government. Fascists and leftists wage a civil war against each other in France’s southern neighbor, Spain, while the eastern neighbor, Germany, is becoming increasingly aggressive. All of Paris feels as if it’s facing an ideological threat to its existence, but Parisians are divided—primarily along class lines—over whether the threat comes from German Nazism or Russian Bolshevism. Myers articulates these tensions through a rich cast of characters, including the real-life anti-Nazi journalist Geneviève Tabouis; industrial heiress and high-society seductress Countess Marie Hélène de Villars-Brancas; ambitious young politician Jules Dugas; and conniving German diplomat Carl Friedrich von Dinckler. Much of the novel’s plot deals specifically with the lead-up to the Munich Agreement (or the “Munich Betrayal,” as many Central Europeans called it), in which France and Britain chose to appease, rather than challenge, the military advances of Nazi Germany. In Myers’ portrayal of the era, sexual affairs and espionage come into play as the Germans and their allies try to shore up French support for appeasement. It can occasionally be difficult to follow the characters’ comings and goings as they dash around Europe: there are many brief scenes that might have benefited from a bit of expansion, particularly in establishing settings. However, the characters embody the complexity and conflicts of the historical moment. Myers has done his research and impeccably draws the month-to-month social and political situations. The setting also creates a tragic dramatic irony; some of Myers’ characters may believe the Munich Agreement will prevent war and destruction, but readers already know this won’t be the case.
An intriguing, historically grounded imagining of behind-the scenes machinations during a crucial moment in European history.