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The Statement ()

I used to have a Francophile sit across from me at work.  When I grew too bored, I could always count on some excitement by provoking him over the topic of Vichy France and French participation in the Holocaust.  Eventually, he would run from the cubicle, shrieking that France was a great nation and incapable of anti-Semitism.  Then to his own horror, he read a book about Marshal Petain and was forced to finally accept that the French people were willing, even eager, participants in the extermination of European Jewry.  I can't wait until he reads this fact-based story by Brian Moore, one of the truly great Catholic novelists of recent decades (see Orrin's review of Black Robe).

Moore's novel literally starts with a bang as Pierre Brossard, a 70 year old Catholic Frenchman, outguns an assassin who has been sent to kill him.  On the assassin's body he finds a statement from the "Committee for Justice for the Jewish Victims of Dombey", claiming responsibility for the execution of Brossard.  It turns out that Brossard has been a fugitive for over forty years, having participated in the murder of 14 Jews in 1944.  During that time he has been protected by sympathetic members of the Catholic Church, provided with funds, hiding places, transportation and false papers.  At one point, they even secured a presidential pardon for him, but then he was charged with a "crime against humanity", against which the pardon offers no dispensation.

But now times have changed and many of those in the Church and in government who protected Brossard have passed on and others simply want him out of the way, lest his prosecution serve as a model for subsequent trials.  Moreover, the succeeding generation of officials does not bear any sympathy towards him, so they too are on his trail.  What follows is a thrilling chase, as Brossard is pursued by Church, State and the shadowy committee and by "friend" and foe alike.

Beyond the basic thriller premise, Moore also offers an examination of the often ignored war guilt of France.  Initially it seems possible to feel some sympathy for Brossard and the other aging collaborators, to the extent that they were motivated by anti-Communism and anti-modernism.  But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that, at heart, they were driven as much by genuine hatred of Jews as by any other less repulsive motives.

Moore based Brossard on an actual person, Paul Touvier, and the story's essentials, from the assistance of the Church to the presidential pardon, are all historical, though Touvier was captured in 1989 and died in prison.  These, of course, are facts that stand in stark contrast to the myth that DeGaulle consciously chose to cultivate instead, of the French people as proud heroes of the Resistance, standing firm against the Nazi oppressor.  In fact, just as Jonah Goldhagen's great book Hitler's Willing Executioner's (see review) has forced us to rethink the question of how limited was German responsibility for the Holocaust, it is long past time to reconsider whether Vichy France was truly an aberration or whether it was in some sense a manifestation of French popular opinion.  This is especially important in light of the concurrent rise in present day France of both the Muslim population and the extremist Le Pen Party.  As France, a nation obsessed by the concepts of Frenchness and French blood, approaches the moment where the classic Gallic Catholic French will be outnumbered by immigrant Muslims, it is necessary to either anticipate the possibility that this will bring genocidal violence or else to, once again, close our eyes and feign surprise when presented with a fait accompli.

Brian Moore brilliantly combines a page turning thriller with a thought provoking look at some of these issues.  The result is an outstanding novel which, like much of Moore's work, defies the limitations of genre to probe vital moral issues.

David Sandberg's response:
Your hatred of France and its people demonstrates to all the world your lack of savoire faire and elan. You are a swine. While it may be true that France has had some problems with anti-Semitism in its past - this country cannot hold itself blameless in the treatment of minorities. In terms of sheer numbers - slavery in the American South and the treatment of indigenous peoples in the US is a far worse crime than anything done by the French. You are a pig. You are an uncivilized pig.  Civilization is a French creation. the capital of the world is Paris - everyone knows this you addled cretin.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Brian Moore (3 books reviewed)
General Literature
Brian Moore Links:

    -APPRECIATION: Belfast’s best-kept secret: John Self welcomes the reissue of three works by Brian Moore, one of Northern Ireland’s few novelists who can stand toe-to-toe with the contemporary greats (John Self, September 2021, The Critic)
    -ESSAY: Brian Moore’s hotels: Time to revisit this neglected author in his centenary year: This Irish writer excelled at portrayals of women dissatisfied with marriage and domestic life (Sinéad Moynihan, 1/12/21, Irish Times)

Book-related and General Links:
    -ESSAY:  Going Home (Brian Moore, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Captain and The Enemy by Graham Greene,  FATHER LOST ME IN A BACKGAMMON GAME (Brian Moore, NY Times Book Review)
(Brian Moore, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of FLANNERY O'CONNOR Collected Works, MAKING A CASE FOR DISTORTION  (Brian Moore, NY Times Book Review)
    -Interview (from the Australian)
    -ARCHIVES : "Brian Moore" (NY Review of Books)
    -Brian Moore--Biography (Local Ireland)
    -Brian Moore (1921- )(Well Known Canadians)
    -Canadian Literary Archives - Brian Moore (Special Collections, University of Calgary Library)
    -EducETH: Brian Moore
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Brian Moore (imdb)
    -OBIT : Brian Moore, Prolific Novelist on Diverse Themes, Dies at 77 (DINITIA SMITH, NY Times)
    -OBITUARY : Author Brian Moore defied definition : The Irish-born novelist spent his last 30 years living in California but probably came closest to finding a sense of home in Canada. (Tuesday, January 12, 1999, VAL ROSS, Globe and Mail)
    -MEMORIAL : Brian Moore: A writer who never failed to surprise his readers (Robert Fulford, Globe and Mail, January 12, 1999)
    -PROFILE : An Irishman in Malibu  (Tom Christie, LA Weekly)
    -OBITUARY : Brian Moore, 1921-1999 (Tom Christie, LA Weekly)
    -ESSAY : Brian Moore, 1921-99: Cool prose craftsman (Socialism Today)
    -FEATURED AUTHOR : Brian Moore (Read Ireland)
    -Brian Moore: Travels of a Literary Infidel (John Blades, Publishers Weekly)
    -BOOK GROUP GUIDE : The Magician's Wife by Brian Moore
    -READER'S GUIDE : Lies of Silence (College Net)
    -REVIEW: THE STATEMENT By Brian Moore (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: THE STATEMENT By Brian Moore (Eugen Weber, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Catholics and Fascists  ( J. Bottum, Catholic Crisis Online)
    -REVIEW: of The Statement by Brian Moore (John Wilson, First Things)
    -REVIEW: Bygones?  The Statement   by Brian Moore (Roger Kaplan, Commentary)
    -REVIEW: (Mystery Guide)
    -REVIEW: Moral fable makes a 'Statement' about war crimes and 'justice' (David Walton, Detroit News)
    -REVIEW : of The Statement (Book Page)
    -REVIEW : John Gross: Marked Man, NY Review of Books
               The Statement by Brian Moore
               Memory, the Holocaust, and French Justice  edited by  Richard J. Golsan
    -Review of Black Robe (NY Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt)
    -REVIEW : of Black Robe by Brian Moore (NY Times, James Carroll)
    -REVIEW : of Lies of Silence by Brian Moore (Francine Prose, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Magician's Wife by Brian Moore  (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Magician's Wife by Brian Moore  (Thomas Mallon, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Magician's Wife by Brian Moore (Brian St. Pierre, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : Gabriele Annan: The Mahdi's Bullet, NY Review of Books
               The Magician's Wife by Brian Moore
    -REVIEW: of Cold Heaven, A SPIRITUAL QUID PRO QUO (Frances Taliaferro, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE TEMPTATION OF EILEEN HUGHES By Brian Moore (1981)(Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of THE COLOR OF BLOOD By Brian Moore (Clancy Sigal, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE COLOR OF BLOOD. By Brian Moore (John Gross, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of No Other Life By Brian Moore (1993)(Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of NO OTHER LIFE By Brian Moore (Henry Louis Gates Jr., NY Times Book Review)
    -BOOK LIST : 1990 Booker Prize Nominees : Lies of Silence
    -BOOK LIST : MODERN NOVELS; THE 99 BEST (Anthony Burgess, NY Times, 1984)

    -OBIT: Paul Touvier, 81, French War Criminal (DAVID STOUT, New York Times  July 18, 1996)
    -Role played by French civil servants and police in helping Nazis persecute Jews (Reuters, October 1996)
    -Literature of the Holocaust (maintained by Al Filreis)
    -French Children of the Holocaust
    -The Vichy government (Encyclopedia Britannica)
    -Keller Jaguars WWII Internet Project:  Vichy France
    -Vichy law and the Holocaust in France a book by Richard H. Weisberg, published in 1996 by NYU Press and other documents related to the French legal system
    -LINKS: Simon Kitson's Vichy links
    -Sources for the Study of World War II and the Occupation in French History, Literature, and Film
    -Documents of World War II
    -The Simon Wiesenthal Center: Multimedia Learning Center
    -Never Again Foundation
    -REVIEW: of Hitler's Pope by John Cornwell  The Holocaust and the Catholic Church: Some in the Vatican want to make Pius XII a saint. If they succeed, "the Church will have sealed its second millennium with a lie"  (James Carroll, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: Tony Judt: Betrayal in France,  NY Review of Books
        The Holocaust, the French, and the Jews by Susan Zuccotti
    -REVIEW: Robert O. Paxton: Tricks of Memory,  NY Review of Books
        The Vichy Syndrome: History and Memory in France since 1944 by Henry Rousso
    -REVIEW: Robert O. Paxton: 'The Last King of France',  NY Review of Books
        Pétain: Hero or Traitor, The Untold Story by Herbert R. Lottman
    -REVIEW: Stanley Hoffmann: After the Fall, NY Review of Books
        Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 by Robert O. Paxton

    -ESSAY : French author causes storm by attacking Islam (John Lichfield, 01 September 2001, Independent uk)