A Hero Of France by Alan Furst is a novel of the dark days of France in the winter of 1941, when the Nazis controlled Europe and the Allies were losing the war. Mathieu is a leader in the French Resistance, trying to help downed British pilots escape back to England.
A Hero of France is the latest in a series of novels by Alan Furst about the French Resistance. Although the characters are fictional, the facts about the war and the Resistance are well documented. The bravery of the French resistance is truly remarkable.
A Hero Of France shows how the people in the French Resistance were not young trained soldiers, which makes their bravely more remarkable. Before the war Mathieu owed a small newspaper. Now in German Occupied Paris, his resistance cell consists of people he hopes the Nazis will not suspect as a threat. His Resistance “organization” consists of an elderly professor, a young high school girl, a bar owner, a woman who sells religious statues and an assortment of petty criminals. This is the group that has to try to outsmart German Military Intelligence, French Police, and various French paid informers.
Most people today have the wrong impression of French Resistance “fighters”. In fact, fighting was not the primary function of the French Resistance, for the simple reason that it was suicidal. The Nazis had a brutal system of reprisals. If any German soldier was killed in Occupied Paris, the Germans would immediately gather a minimum of 10 random French citizens and execute them.
A Hero Of France shows what the French Resistance really did in World War II. They saved downed airmen, hid escaped Allied POWs, and gathered intelligence about German troop movements. Much of this was directed from London by British Intelligence, with which the French Resistance groups had a very tense relationship. On the one hand the French needed the supplies and money the British provided. On the other hand, it was quite obvious that British Intelligence considered the French Resistance groups as expendable commodities.
The British view was that if the French Resistance could be of help to the war that was good, but if French people got killed in the process it was no big loss. After all they were not “real” soldiers anyway. However, Mathieu does care about the people in the group. He wants the Allies to win the war, but he also wants all the people in his Resistance cell to still be alive when that happens.
A Hero Of France is an excellent novel and we highly recommend it. It is a tribute the small group of civilians who stood alone in France against the might of the Nazis, while Americans stayed neutral and safe an ocean away.