2006. A trade paperback copy in good condition.
This brilliant book tells the story of one of history's most despicable villains and conmen – Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, Nazi collaborator and 'Commissioner for Jewish Affairs', who managed the Vichy government's dirty work, 'controlling' its Jewish population. Born into an established, politically moderate family, Louis Darquier ('de Pellepoix' was a later affectation) proceeded from modest beginnings to dissemble his way to power, continually reinventing himself in conformity with an obsession with racial purity and the latent anti-Semitism of the French Catholic Church. He was the ultimate chancer: always broke, always desperate for attention, social cachet, women and drink, he became 'one of the few men to put on weight during the Second World War', and after it was over he decamped to Spain, never to be brought to justice for having sent thousands of Jews, men, women and children, to the camps. Early on in his career he married the alcoholic Myrtle Jones from Tasmania, equally practised in the arts of fantasy and deception, and together they had a child, Anne Darquier, whom they promptly abandoned to grow up in England under an oppressive mantle of silence. Her tragic story of honourable but exhausting ambition is woven through the narrative. In Carmen Callil's masterful and harrowing account, Darquier's ascent to power during the years leading up to the Second World War comes to mirror the rise of French anti-Semitism and the role it played in the horrors that were to follow. It is a portrait of a society as fragmented and desperate as any before the war, trading miserable second-rate philosophies in search of meaning and power, and of how the people of Vichy turned a blind eye to the shameful things being done under their noses.
Shortlisted for James Tait Black Memorial Prize (Biography) 2007.