Knowing when to answer a door, when to ring a bell, whether or not to take an elevator was essential during an oppressive occupation.
By RONALD C. ROSBOTTOM
A French friend, who was a very young girl during the German occupation of Paris, once told me that those dark years were like a “secret garden.” She knew it existed, but she never knew how to enter it or what exactly it contained. What had happened? How did the Parisians thwart the harshness of the German occupation? Should they have done more to oppose it? And, inevitably, what would she herself have done as an adult under the same circumstances? No one, not even her parents, would easily speak about this period to her. Was it sadness, shame or just therapeutic forgetting?
Charles Kaiser’s “The Cost of Courage” combines a thorough and quite accessible history of Europe’s six-year murderous paroxysm with a deftly told story from this secret garden. The Boulloches — father Jacques, his wife Hélène and their four children — were a comfortable bourgeois, Catholic Parisian family: “They blend[ed] a soft anticlericalism with a sharp republican spirit.” As with many such families under the occupation, this one was divided about how to react to its indignities.
. . .
In his stimulating book, Mr. Kaiser, a newspaper reporter turned popular historian, suggests that the “cost of courage,” the emotional price paid for having resisted the Germans and their Vichy collaborators and for the years of being constantly on one’s guard, served to repress memories of that time. Through a combination of luck — his uncle had been billeted for a year after the liberation in the Boulloche apartment in Paris — and a journalist’s knack for following a good story, he has produced a moving and exciting narrative.
“Passages that we might expect to find in a superior thriller . . . . Kaiser makes the most of the inherent drama in the story he tells, but his touchstone is his relentless search for truth amid the fog of war.”
“Charles Kaiser relies on an old family friendship to unearth stirring stories of the brave French who risked their all to oppose the Nazis. . . . Moving new book on the French Resistance during World War II.”
A former reporter and award-winning author rescues the almost unbelievable account of one family’s experience in Nazi-occupied France.
Between the cruel caricature of a nation of collaborators and the purposeful, Charles de Gaulle-promoted myth of a country full of valiant resisters lies the truth for most of the French during World War II. In the same manner a young girl’s diary once vivified the Holocaust and the fate of 6 million for a postwar audience, Kaiser tells, through the Boulloche family, the story of lives turned complicated by the bizarre realities of Vichy France. . . .
Thanks to a family connection forged in the war’s immediate wake, Kaiser has managed to gather all the painful details, and he assembles them masterfully.
At once heroic and heartbreaking, this story leaves an indelible mark.
Charles Kaiser’s The Cost of Courage, published by Other Press, is the tragic and triumphant true story of one family in the French Resistance whom Kaiser has known since he was eleven years old. The book is a nonfiction thriller, a love story, and a mini-history of World War II in Europe.
Kaiser speaks fluent French and spent two and half years living in France to research the book. It draws on interviews with the main actors in the Resistance from the Boulloche family, their confederates and their descendants, as well as documents from the French and British National Archives. The British dossiers on three of the main characters were declassified for the first time at Kaiser's request. The author calls The Cost of Courage the most dramatic story he has ever written.
“Charles Kaiser deserves a Legion of Honor red ribbon for bringing to vibrant life the suspenseful, never-before-told true story of a family's courage, suffering and ultimate triumph amid the existential dangers and challenges of the French Resistance. Chapeau!”
“One legacy of the Nazi occupation of France was secrecy, a shield that long hid the heroism of resisters no less than the shame of collaborators. In this gripping true-life drama, Charles Kaiser reveals the long-buried story of one prosperous Parisian family that paid a high price for the bravery of its children. Until now, only through silence could they live with the painful cost of their courage.”
—Alan Riding, author of And The Show Went On:
Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris
“A very compelling story.”
—Robert Paxton, author of Vichy France
“In this poignant personal tale, Kaiser explores the emotions and breaks through the silences that haunted an amazing family after their experiences in the French resistance to Nazi occupation. The result is a compelling and heart-wrenching book about courage, love, and the complex shadings of heroism.”
Kaiser is the author of The Gay Metropolis, the landmark history of gay life in America, which is available in an updated edition from Grove. An excerpt from the new edition appeared in The New York Observer.
He is an expert on the media, politics, the ’60’s, and gay life in America. Some of his TV and lecture appearances appear below.
New from Penguin Classics:Penguin Classics has republished On Being Different: What It Means to Be a Homosexual, by Merle Miller. This classic essay was originally published in The New York Times Magazine in January, 1971. The article was the first calm, balanced, nuanced and human explanation of what it meant to be gay ever published in The Times, and Merle Miller was the first prominent writer ever to come out in its pages.
Dan Savage has written the forward to the new edition, and Charles Kaiser has written the afterword, explaining how Miller's piece affected him when he first read it, and how dramatically gay life has changed over the last four decades.
The New York Review of Books has excerpted the afterword.
This compelling social and political history begins with World War II, when the United Stars Army acted as the “great, secret, unwitting engine of gay liberation in America” — by creating the largest concentration of gay men and lesbians inside a single institution since the founding of the republic.
By melding the personal stories of people as famous as Leonard Bernstein and as little known as Sandy Kern, a Brooklyn girl who first heard the word “lesbian” when a neighbor spied her with her arm around her girlfriend at the end of a wartime blackout, Kaiser provides his readers with the sights, sounds, scents, thoughts and feelings of gay life in America since 1940. He also analyses the most significant social and political events to shape gay culture — everything from the original production of “West Side Story” (the creation of four gay, Jewish men) to the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision, Lawrence v. Texas, in 2003, the most important legal victory in the history of the gay movement in America.
The book also includes:
Newsweek called it “required reading.” The Sunday Times of London said it was “absolutely mesmerizing.”
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year and Lambda Literary Award winner.
You’re welcome to read the introduction to The Gay Metropolis.
You can purchase a copy of the new edition from Amazon.
You can search inside The Gay Metropolis here.
An electronic version of the new edition is available here.
First published in 1988, 1968 In America remains one of the definitive texts about the culture and politics of the ’60’s. “It is about the people of all ages who believed that fundamental change was possible and necessary in America in 1968, and about the culture that shaped that conviction.” (From the introduction.)
A compelling work of popular history, is it used in college courses across the country. The book covers the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy in depth, as well as the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., the riots at Columbia University in the spring of 1968, and the eruptions in the streets outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
Bob Dylan granted an exclusive interview for this book. 1968 In America includes extensive material about everyone from the Beatles to John Hammond, the greatest musical talent scout of the 20th Century, who discovered everyone from Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. It also covers everything from the Tet Offensive, which transformed America’s attitude toward Vietnam, to the C.I.A’s extensive experiments with LSD. (The intelligence agency called the drug a “potential new agent for conventional warfare.”)
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called 1968 “a splendidly evocative account of a historic year — a year of tumult, of trauma, and of tragedy.”
You’re welcome to read the introduction to 1968 In America.
To read the chapter of 1968 In America about the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968 go here.
You can purchase a copy of 1968 In America from Amazon in print or for the Kindle.
You can search inside 1968 in America here.
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Photo: Joe Stouter
Charles Kaiser was born in Washington D.C. and grew up there and in Albany, N.Y., Dakar, Senegal, London, England, Windsor, Conn., and New York City.
He started writing for The New York Times while still an undergraduate at Columbia College. He spent five years there as a reporter on the Metro staff, covering City Hall, the environment, and State Supreme Court, among other beats. He then became the press critic at Newsweek for two years. After a brief stint writing about media and publishing for The Wall Street Journal, he wrote his first book, 1968 In America, which was published in 1988. The Gay Metropolis was first published in 1997. Both of them are available from Grove Press. He is completing The Cost of Courage, about a French family in the Resistance in Paris during World War II, to be published by The Other Press.
His writing has appeared in New York, The New York Observer, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and Manhattan,inc. among many other publications.
Kaiser was a founder and former president of the New York chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He has taught journalism at Columbia and Princeton, where he was the Ferris Professor of Journalism.
He is an avid bike rider. A few years ago he biked 1,000 miles in three weeks over the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia and Kentucky. He lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Kaiser’s lecture subjects include the French Resistance, World War II, politics and the press, How the ’60s Saved America, and The Gay Revolution Since 1970.
A high-resolution version of the author’s photograph is available. Mandatory credit: Joe Stouter