Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley
At the end of his book, Charles Kaiser writes that the average American doesn’t know anything, if much, about the French Resistance. He’s most likely correct. The Cost of Courage details the struggles that the Boulloche family went though during the Second World War when France was taken over by Germany. Three of the Boulloches, Christiane, Jaqueline, and Andre- join the Resistance while their parents and elder brother do not. The emphasis is on the family during the war, though the second part deals with the surviving family members’ lives after the war.
There is one crucial element to Kaiser’s style that will no doubt put some people off. He writes in present tense. This might have been done to make the story seem more real or to have a stronger connection with the reader. It doesn’t work for me, and this is a matter of personal taste.
In some ways, Kaiser’s book is similar to Corrie Ten Bloom’s Hiding Place, though it lacks a religious underpinning and the Boulloches resisted more due to patriotism and a sense of justice. It is the idea of justice and morality that connects the Boulloches to the more devout ten Blooms.
The story of the Boulloches is interwoven with a more general history of the war. In some ways this is understandable, it places the events in a wider context, but at the same time it distracts from the central story and feels, at times, like so much filler. Perhaps this could have been alleviated somewhat by a closer focus on France during the War instead of Germany and France. While Kaiser is correct in that history does tend to gloss over French and German resistance to Hitler (few Americans, for instance, can recognize the White Rose, despite the fact that the group does get some attention in the United States Holocaust Museum), trying to correct both those issues in one short book doesn’t work simply because of space. In many ways, keeping the focus on the French Resistance would have been better.
Kaiser no doubt will also receive some criticism for his lack of dealing directly with Holocaust, but it is unclear how much of the genocide he could have brought in considering that the Boulloches seemed to be motivated by French patriotism and were not Jewish. Kaiser does mention that Christiane disliked a Jewish teacher losing her job due to the regulations, but he also makes it clear that this was not the impetus for her to join the Resistance. Additionally, the treatment of the Jews by the French during the Occupation also does not have a role here because of what the Boulloches did. While a more detailed overview might not been amiss, Kaiser does refer to the book Vichy France and the Jews, making it clear that it is the place to go to track down more information. The only way he could have been clearer would have been to say – go buy it now. (Though I have to wonder why a David Irving book is in the source listing).
In short, while this book could have more depth, Kaiser’s writing style is enjoyable enough (regardless of the verb issue) that it should spark a wider interest in the reader in regards to France under Occupation.