Friday, February 4, 2011

What are you reading? The Blood Of Others.

The Blood Of Others. Simone de Beauvoir.

This is one of those books that stays with you, and calls you back to read again and again. The book in the picture is my own well thumbed copy. Downloading a clean snazzy cover from the internet just wouldn't do it justice. I even left the price tag on, look how much I paid for it.

It begins and ends with our heroine, Helene on her death-bed. Mortally wounded, with a bullet to the lungs, her friends can do nothing but sit with her. Her ex-lover, Jean Blomart, riddled with guilt, relives the whole tale.

We are taken back to pre World War 2 Paris. We meet a very young and lively Helene. Engaged to the well meaning and principled Paul. Self centred and impulsive, as the young often are, Helene soon bores of him. When she follows Paul into his political activities, she meets and falls in love with Jean.

Jean is from a comfortable background, but chose to take the side of the worker. Guilt has haunted our hero all his life, it is the root of all his motivation. His links with the communist party alienated his father, who had made his fortune in the printing trade. Despite ill feelings, Jean chose to stay in the family business, and use it for political advantage.

Jean is always torn. He tries to escape his background, but knows that he can easily return. He nurses the regret that he has betrayed his parents. He wants to love, and does not want to hurt Helene, but cannot return her intense feelings. He is strangely detatched from emotion, putting all his energy into political causes.

Helene's journey is different. The self-centred adolescent we first meet soon grows up. As war breaks out and people all around her become displaced, she finds her strength and learns compassion.

Meanwhile German troops have occupied Paris. Small underground activist groups are seeing the need to unite and get organised. Nobody is sure who they can trust, or what to believe in.

'War could bring about the fall of Fascism, could we stand with our arms folded, beside blood-bespattered Spain, beside the pogroms that defiled Germany, and the brown tide which was rolling toward Austria? ...........I was ashamed, but shame was no argument; the moans of the wounded on the shell-torn and bloody battlefields filled me with pitiless horror. Beyond the Pyrenees, the workers of Spain fell beneath the Fascist bullets - but could I redeem their blood at the price of French lives, at the price of a single life which was not my own life? Jews died like flies in concentration camps, but had I the right to exchange their dead bodies for the innocent bodies of French peasants? I could pay with my body, with my blood, but the remainder of mankind was no coin for my use;'

When their affair is over, Jean throws himself into his work. His contacts, leadership skills and ingenuity makes him indispensible in the underground. Here, once again, Jean finds himself torn. His own life cannot be risked, and yet he must send loyal followers and friends out on dangerous missions. Jean is forced to gamble with the blood of others.

Helene tries to get on with her life, although everything is turned on its head. She even forms a brief aliance with a German soldier. As things get ugly in Paris, Helene feels compromised and stops seeing the soldier.

Jews are rounded up. Helene watches in horror as friends and neighbours are taken prisoner by the Germans. Other political friends disappear. She takes her dear friend Yvonne, a Jewess, into hiding. Now she must turn to Jean for help. In smuggling Yvonne out of the country, Helene finds that she can help others as well. She offers her services and continues to work for the underground. And now we are back to the bullet-in-the lungs scene.

A rich and satisfying novel.

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