"Like big black umbrellas, they rain down on the fields across the way, and then disappear behind the black line of the hedges." Silent parachutes dotting the night sky--that's how one woman in Normandy in June of 1944 learned that the D-Day invasion was under way. Though they yearned for liberation, the French in Normandy nonetheless had to steel themselves for war, knowing that their homes and land and fellow citizens would have to bear the brunt of the attack. Already battered by years of Nazi occupation, they knew they had one more trial to undergo even as freedom beckoned.
With D-Day through French Eyes
, Mary Louise Roberts turns the usual stories of D-Day around, taking readers across the Channel to view the invasion anew. Roberts builds her history from an impressive range of gripping first-person accounts of the invasion as seen by French citizens throughout the region. A farm family notices that cabbage is missing from their garden--then discovers that the guilty culprits are American paratroopers hiding in the cowshed. Fishermen rescue pilots from the wreck of their B-17, only to struggle to find clothes big enough to disguise them as civilians. A young man learns how to estimate the altitude of bombers and to determine whether a bomb was whistling overhead or silently headed straight for them. In small towns across Normandy, civilians hid wounded paratroopers, often at the risk of their own lives. When the allied infantry arrived, they guided soldiers to hidden paths and little-known bridges, giving them crucial advantages over the German occupiers. Through story after story, Roberts builds up an unprecedented picture of the face of battle as seen by grateful, if worried, civilians.
As she did in her acclaimed account of GIs in postwar France, What Soldiers Do
, Roberts here reinvigorates and reinvents a story we thought we knew. The result is a fresh perspective on the heroism, sacrifice, and achievement of D-Day.
"In the great tradition of Studs Terkel and Is Paris Burning?, Mary Louise Roberts uses the diaries and memoirs of French civilians to narrate a history of the French at D-Day that has for too long been occluded by the mythology of the allied landing. Students approaching WWII history for the first time will now be able to go beyond the beachhead and think deeply about the French-American encounter in all its complexity. For the French, liberation meant American heroes--demigods packing Hershey's chocolate and chouine gomme--and it also meant the destruction of property and the loss of life, the violent end to years of waiting. The switch of point of view from American to French is an exercise in empathy that renews history at the core. What a great idea and what a gripping and artful book!"
--Alice Kaplan, author of Dreaming in French
"A moving examination of how French civilians experienced the fighting." --Telegraph
"Roberts's work is commendable, finally, because her work reminds readers that D-Day was not only a positive event that reestablished freedom, but that its cost was tragically high for all concerned."--New York Journal of Books
"The author shows great skill in allowing these eyewitnesses to 'speak for themselves, ' vividly evoking their experiences of the tragedy, the brutality, the destruction, the joy, and the fear that the invasion brought. . . . In its treatment of an often neglected aspect of military history, this will be an attractive acquisition for all libraries."--Choice