A Word from the Editor
We are back after a break! This issue offers reviews of familiar topics, the Occupation, the Holocaust, and Napoleon. These continue to attract novelists, filmmakers, and audiences. Our reviewers explain why.
In the Buzz, Michael Sibalis assesses Thomas Keneally’s new novel, Napoleon’s Last Island. The last island is, of course, Saint Helena and the subject Napoleon’s friendship with Betsy Balcombe, the spunky teen-aged daughter of the provisioner to the exiled court. The story is based on the real Betsy’s memoirs and the review delves into their composition and how far Keneally remains faithful to or strays from the historical evidence.
The other two reviews address works recent enough to count as buzzes but I have squeezed them into the “Maybe Missed” and “Classics in the Classroom” categories for publication purposes. In “Maybe Missed,” Shannon Fogg discusses the runaway bestseller The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (soon to be a film directed by Michelle MacLaren). The story follows two sisters who join the Resistance during the German Occupation, the one immediately and the second after a series of plot turns. Historical accuracy not being Hannah’s forte, Fogg explains what she meant to convey by her overview of conditions in France during the war, most particularly for women and those too-often unsung wartime heroines.
In the issue’s third review, Alyssa Sepinwall describes new approaches to the Holocaust in recent French films. Rather than focusing on the round-ups and camps as most films have tended to do, two films in particular, The Origins of Violence and Once in a Lifetime, set the stories in the present. In a way reminiscent of Sarah’s Key, The Origins of Violence shows how the present is affected by past secrets and denials. In Once in a Lifetime, based on a true story, students at a Créteil high school research what happened to French Jews during the war. The third movie, Victor “Young” Perez, brings the empire in through the biopic of a Jewish Tunisian boxer caught in the maelstrom, an inclusion that changes how we think about French victims of the Holocaust.
University at Buffalo, SUNY