A Woman's Journal of
Struggle and Defiance in
Barbara Mellor, Translator
Résistance is everything you and I could want in an autobiography. The author is a smart, funny, gentle, brave, insightful French woman who ends up in jail for four long years.
In 1941, she and some friends decide to put out a newspaper --- strictly illegal in Nazi-occupied Paris. For them it's a bit of a lark, but then they get caught in a German dragnet. They lock her up, first to Cherchi-Midi prison in Paris ... then ultimately in Germany.
§ § §
There's prison literature and prison literature. Most of it can be as boring as prison itself. But Résistance is different: Humbert is hardy, foolhardy, smart ... and such a sterling character you want to call her up on the telephone just to tell her to cool it.
She is breath-takingly brave. In her trial, when the prosecutor asks if she knows who wrote the anti-Nazi newspaper, "'Why yes, of course,' I reply, 'I know exactly who wrote it.'"
"So?" he asks, with an expression of triumph in his evil little eyes like lottery balls. "So...?"
"So, what would you do in my position?"
He wants her to rat on her soul-mates, that's what he wants, and as he waits for her to do so, he smiles.
"You're smiling, so I'll do the same. I'll smile too."
"You do not want to change your mind in any respect?"
"Well, bringing you here was a complete waste of time, then!"
For almost a year, she's been in a dirty little cell with no vista of trees or streets or greenery of any kind, so she replies that it was not a waste of time at all: "By no means. I saw the place de la Concorde, and I am grateful to you for giving me this pleasure before I leave France." And so she gets shipped off to Germany.
§ § §
Not only is the writing in Résistance good, we grow quickly to care about Humbert. Fear and curiosity are her constant companions, and they become ours too. She's such a spark that we fear that she's going to get whacked just for being so defiant. We are curious to see just exactly how she survives.
Every book of survival comes with a Moment of Truth. It is the moment one learns what it will entail to survive. In this case, it's that moment when Humbert realizes that despite her good-humor and wit, she is faced with something truly grotesque: jailers that are capable of great and appalling cruelty. It's the moment when she realizes that she is without recourse, that she's in a place of no escape, and those running the show are dyed-in-the-wool, no-kidding, without-a-doubt beasts --- capable of any and all violence, to the body; to the soul.
She (and the reader) get transported to a nightmare world where there is no escape, a world manned by brutes --- the women jailers are equally brutish --- who will deprive you of food and water; who will beat you and kick you if you do not follow their exact (and often insane) orders; who will work you hard for eight or ten or twelve or twenty-four hours. Worst of all, no matter how sweet intelligent or gentle their charges, the enforcers don't give a toot if they live or die.