Book Review: Les Parisiennes — by Anne Sebba

Les Parisiennes —– by Anne Sebba (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, UK/St. Martin’s Press, NY, 2016) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]

What is it that Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart) says in the movie Casablanca when Ilsa (played by Ingrid Bergman) asks if he remembers Paris?

Rick says, “I remember every detail. You wore blue; the Germans wore grey.”

Those lines were spoken in a movie about a memorable time in the history of Paris, the City of Light, which was very much a city of women during 1940—1944, when Paris was occupied by the German army.

Anne Sebba has written a remarkable book, Les Parisiennes, describing Paris and the lives of its women during that dark period, les Années Noires.

So many Frenchmen had been captured or were fighting overseas or were forced to work in factories, far from home. To a large part, it was left to the women to face the conquerors. Increasingly desperate for food, the women of Paris, whether wealthy or poor, became engaged in the everyday struggle to survive.

Sensitive as well as thorough, Les Parisiennes records the details of the world of women in wartime Paris, from Elizabeth Arden’s paint-on stockings to the cost of a packet of cigarettes, from French traitors to heroines, such as Odette, and let’s not forget the German women of Paris, the Blitzweiben—so-called ‘little Grey Mice’—who were posted to the city and saw Paris from the eyes of the foreign tourist. Neither does Anne Sebba forget the brave Frenchwomen who perished, nor those who were deported and endured the hell of concentration camps, like Ravensbrück.

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