Winner of the Saltire Society Scotsman Book of the Year AwardInEtienne de Balafr pieces together the career of the father he hardly knew who, after the fall of France in , became a prominent Vichy adherent His quest leads to painful discoveries, not only about the extent of his father s collaboration and cruel death, but also about his own life blighted by the legacy of the past Vividly depicting wartime France, Allan Massie probes a morass of conflicting loyalties and misguided ideals within a poignant, compelling narrative


10 thoughts on “A Question Of Loyalties

  1. John John says:

    This novel is about the quest by Etienne de Balafre to find out about how his father, Lucien, died during WWII It is the story of both Etienne and Lucien After the collapse of the French army to the Nazis in 1940, Lucien, a French intellectual and publisher of a literary magazine, is induced by Marshal Petain to become a minister in the Vichy government The novel does a good job of presenting to the reader the difficulties faced by Lucien in deciding whether to support the Vichy regime or the This novel is about the quest by Etienne de Balafre to find out about how his father, Lucien, died during WWII It is the story of both Etienne and Lucien After the collapse of the French army to the Nazis in 1940, Lucien, a French intellectual and publisher of a literary magazine, is induced by Marshal Petain to become a minister in the Vichy government The novel does a good job of presenting to the reader the difficulties faced by Lucien in deciding whether to support the Vichy regime or the resistance led by de Gaulle from London As an American reader, I had the over simplified notion that the Vichy collaborators were mere cowardly defeatists and that the French resistance were the real heroes Massie shows that things werecomplex than that One of my favorite passages in the book is the following We are all placed in History, landed there, involuntarily and unconsulted Some generations have the apparent good fortune to be able to feel free of History No great questions disturb the tenor of their life Yet even such people are formed by their historical experience The questions posed may seem trivial to anotherstrenuous age They are still not of their own making Every new age asks new questions of candidates who have had no opportunity to prepare for the examination Another favorite part of the novel appears in Chapter 3 of Part Two where Massie writes movingly about the ill fated romance between Etienne and Freddie, a young woman whom Etienne meets during a visit to his uncle Armand s in Normandy while a college student in 1951 These passages reveal Massie s ability convincingly to recreate the emotions of two young people in their first loves and show that Massie isthan just a writer of historical fiction The circumstances leading to the break up of this romance, as well as the events involving Etienne s half brother, Jacques, and the local garagiste, Simon, show that choices made during the War had long lasting effects.This novel is not a quick read It starts slowly, and does not become a compelling read until Part Two In addition to simply writing about characters and events, Massie writes about ideas, motivations and complex choices which must be made in the face of historical uncertainties You will want to stop, think and reread The book is well worth the effort


  2. Dave Ireland Dave Ireland says:

    A great book that clarifies the complexities of life in Vichy France and questions of morality and decency under the extreme stresses of war and occupation by a foreign power Before reading this I assumed that Second World War figures liked Marshall Petain and Pierre Laval were simply evil Nazi stooges Of course, life is never that simple and we learn, through Massie s excellent writing, the deeply troubling dilemmas faced by people with conflicting demands placed upon them, who want to do w A great book that clarifies the complexities of life in Vichy France and questions of morality and decency under the extreme stresses of war and occupation by a foreign power Before reading this I assumed that Second World War figures liked Marshall Petain and Pierre Laval were simply evil Nazi stooges Of course, life is never that simple and we learn, through Massie s excellent writing, the deeply troubling dilemmas faced by people with conflicting demands placed upon them, who want to do what is right The awful pressures of trying to steer a course between the personal and political and keep a clear conscience in doing so are horribly evident in this throughly engaging book


  3. Kaye Kaye says:

    4.5 even.Excellent look at the ambiguity and complexity of war time France, the situation to be viewed as a civil war with right and wrong on both sides Very thought provoking.


  4. Ed Ackert Ed Ackert says:

    Excellent writing style Interesting exploration of all the conflicting ideologies and politics of the intra war years Some elements of a good mystery.


  5. Hilary Hilary says:

    It s a long time since a book has made me think as much as this one did Massie explores the question of patriotism and integrity through the different paths that two brothers choose when France falls to Germany in WW2 Lucien, an intellectual who respects P tain from his record in WW1, decides to join the government of Vichy France while his brother Armand joins De Gaulle s Free French Forces Both feel they are acting in the best interests of France It is rare that a writer puts forward the c It s a long time since a book has made me think as much as this one did Massie explores the question of patriotism and integrity through the different paths that two brothers choose when France falls to Germany in WW2 Lucien, an intellectual who respects P tain from his record in WW1, decides to join the government of Vichy France while his brother Armand joins De Gaulle s Free French Forces Both feel they are acting in the best interests of France It is rare that a writer puts forward the case for those who supported Vichy France but Massie does so to considerable effect reminding the reader that at the time no one could guess the outcome of the war Indeed as we know many were those who switched sides when they saw which way the wind was blowing.The plot and structure are extremely complicated with a long list of characters and locations I wish I had made notes of the significant names when I started out The story unfolds through a series of documents as Etienne attempts to discover the mystery surrounding his father s death at the end of the war and the contempt in which he seems to be held His father believed he was doing what was in France s best interests, while supporting the plot to assassinate Hitler, and becoming a confidant of Laval His fear was that communism was a greater threat than fascism so he closed his eyes to the horrors of the Hitler regime Etienne is advised to tell your daughter how we can never judge what s right, and how our best intentions are corrupted This is at the heart of the moral dilemmas faced by these characters viewing things only from their own, often narrow, perspectives.There are rather too many coincidences at the end of the novel, and it s a challenging read but well written


  6. Tom Tom says:

    This is a remarkable book, incredibly well written and deeply moving It is the kind of writing for which I wanted to slow down and savor every phrase, sentence and paragraph, rather than rush through it for the plot development Those who lived in France during the occupation and had to choose sides were faced with unresolvable dilemmas which divided families, towns and the nation Massie writes about it from the modern day perspective of a son recreating his father s involvement in the Vichy g This is a remarkable book, incredibly well written and deeply moving It is the kind of writing for which I wanted to slow down and savor every phrase, sentence and paragraph, rather than rush through it for the plot development Those who lived in France during the occupation and had to choose sides were faced with unresolvable dilemmas which divided families, towns and the nation Massie writes about it from the modern day perspective of a son recreating his father s involvement in the Vichy government through his father s journals and diaries and conversations with remaining family and friends His perspective is all we have, but, to his credit, his personal feelings about his father and his actions rarely intrude Regardless of whether you have an interest int he subject matter or not, this novel deserves to be on your bucket list if you re interested in the best fiction of the 20th century


  7. Keith Keith says:

    Allan Massie was a new author to me He has an extensive and interesting catalog biographies of Roman emperors, almost emperors Antony , Klaus Mann and King Arthur, plus a trilogy of WW2 French police procedurals and many, manyA Question of Loyalties is also part of a trilogy, the theme I adduce as fathers and sons The plot of this one is a older man s desire to know what his French father did in the war There is a mystery attached to this investigation The man had an English mother Allan Massie was a new author to me He has an extensive and interesting catalog biographies of Roman emperors, almost emperors Antony , Klaus Mann and King Arthur, plus a trilogy of WW2 French police procedurals and many, manyA Question of Loyalties is also part of a trilogy, the theme I adduce as fathers and sons The plot of this one is a older man s desire to know what his French father did in the war There is a mystery attached to this investigation The man had an English mother and spent the war in England after his parents separated The specific theme of the book is life under occupation, once again of the perilous bridge between accommodation and collaboration This is areflective and philosophic book than Kristin Hanna s The Nightingale which is a passionate and emotional read on the same subject Both are excellent at what they do


  8. Lafrog8 Lafrog8 says:

    Read because it is a Radio 4 bookclub podcast I nearly gave up reading this book during the first part story of the son just after the second world war but I m glad I didn t for two reasons Reason 1 the second part tells the story of the father mainly during the Vichy government and it is captivating.Reason 2 Once you read the third part the son in later life , the first part makes a lot of sense.I think every French person that ever wondered which side they would have been on or think t Read because it is a Radio 4 bookclub podcast I nearly gave up reading this book during the first part story of the son just after the second world war but I m glad I didn t for two reasons Reason 1 the second part tells the story of the father mainly during the Vichy government and it is captivating.Reason 2 Once you read the third part the son in later life , the first part makes a lot of sense.I think every French person that ever wondered which side they would have been on or think they know in the Second World War Resistance V Collaboration should read this book At school we were taught a very black and white version where the good side was obvious hindsight is a wonderful thing


  9. Carey Combe Carey Combe says:

    A very well written novel that explores issues around loyalty and collaboration and the difficult choices people have to make On one level I thought Massie was too soft on the Vichy regime, but maybe that s because he writes with the assumption that the reader already knows how cosy they were with the Nazis and exploring one man s choices in detail requires asympathetic approach The attitude of the French during this period is vividly drawn and very depressing a mixture of fatalism at A very well written novel that explores issues around loyalty and collaboration and the difficult choices people have to make On one level I thought Massie was too soft on the Vichy regime, but maybe that s because he writes with the assumption that the reader already knows how cosy they were with the Nazis and exploring one man s choices in detail requires asympathetic approach The attitude of the French during this period is vividly drawn and very depressing a mixture of fatalism at the impending German invasion and grudging respect for German success, with anti semitism being the norm amongst ordinary French people Not an uplifting read, though tense and thought provoking


  10. Michael Cayley Michael Cayley says:

    A book centred on a Frenchman who became a junior minister in the Vichy regime A very literary novel, clearly heavily influenced by the many modern French novels dealing with loyalty and betrayal during WW2 There were a few places where I felt the writing over erudite, or where the tone slipped There was one page or so of simplistic satire about Vichy politics which seemed incongruous, and one sentence which read like a parody of existentialism and had me in stitches of laughter as it seemed A book centred on a Frenchman who became a junior minister in the Vichy regime A very literary novel, clearly heavily influenced by the many modern French novels dealing with loyalty and betrayal during WW2 There were a few places where I felt the writing over erudite, or where the tone slipped There was one page or so of simplistic satire about Vichy politics which seemed incongruous, and one sentence which read like a parody of existentialism and had me in stitches of laughter as it seemed so out of place The novel explores how to maintain loyalty in times where all choices seem bad I quite enjoyed it