The War

ISBN: 1565842219
ISBN 13: 9781565842212
By: Marguerite Duras Barbara Bray

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Biography Fiction France French History Literature Memoir Memoirs Non Fiction To Read

About this book

One of France's greatest novelists offers a remarkable diary of the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II and of its eventual liberation by the Allies. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the liberation, this extraordinary diary by the author of The Lover is "a haunting portrait of a time and place" (New York Times).Written in 1944 and first published in 1985, Duras's riveting account of life in Paris during the Nazi occupation and the first months of liberation depicts the harrowing realities of World War II-era France "with a rich conviction enhanced by [a] spare, almost arid, technique" (Julian Barnes, The Washington Post Book World). Duras, by then married and part of a French resistance network headed by François Mitterand, tells of nursing her starving husband back to health after his return from Bergen-Belsen, interrogating a suspected collaborator, and playing a game of cat and mouse with a Gestapo officer who was attracted to her. The result is "more than one woman's diary...[it is] a haunting portrait of a time and a place and also a state of mind" (The New York Times).

Reader's Thoughts


Stalled out after the first 1-2 chapters. The writing is beautiful, but the tone and subject matter are just a little too bleak right now.


Many years ago, I read Marguerite Duras's The Ravishing of Lol Stein, which, at the time, did not make much of an impression on me. Such was not the case with The War, which struck me as being more emotionally realistic than most Resistance literature. (After all, it seems that 125% of the French were actively involved in the Resistance.) I knew, when Duras used the term naphthalinés, "the mothballed ones," to refer to French army members who decamped and put their uniforms in mothballs rather than using them to fight the Nazis, that she was on to something real.There is too much raw emotional honesty to make me think that Duras did not live through most of the events she described. This is an excellent book of autobiographical essays about the last year or so of the war in France and its immediate aftermath. Even the one fictional tale, the last in the book, fits in well, even though it is from the point of view of a little Jewish girl who was saved by a kindly German woman with the war flaring all around her.

Deborah Biancotti

Read this *in French* for my HSC (I certainly couldn't pull off a French reading now - & frankly, I kinda couldn't pull it off then, either) & hated it for its self-indulgence & scatology. Reading *about* the book now makes me wish I hadn't had that negative first experience. It's quite possibly too much for an Australian seventeen year-old with minimal knowledge of European wars to really get this book. I wish I could mark this both as 'read' AND 'to read', because I suspect my next reading will be far more fruitful. Whenever that eventually happens (no rush ... plenty of time on this one).

Kenneth Elliott Iltz

In this memoir of World War II, Duras shares episodes from her life in occupied Paris, where she belonged to the French Resistance under the leadership of the country's future president, Francois Mitterrand. She describes her efforts to find her husband, also a resistance member, who has been captured by the Nazis and sent to a series of concentration camps. He is found at the end of the war in a concentration camp and returned to Paris as a virtual corpse. Duras also writes of her complicated acquaintanceship with the Gestapo officer who first arrested her husband. The book is not what I expected. I found it fascinating. The focus of each chapter of the book is Paris at the end of WWII. This is a book that should be on everyone's bucket list.

Angélique Moreau

Moi qui n'ai jamais été durassienne, du moins si je me base sur mes lointains souvenirs de lycée, je suis restée ébahie par ce texte. Je suis même heureuse de l'avoir lu à l'âge adulte, car je pense que si j'avais alors la sensibilité assez à fleur de peau pour en comprendre le poignant, je n'aurais jamais pu en percevoir les enjeux réels, et ce qu'il révèle sur la moralité de celui qui défend son pays en temps de guerre.Les nouvelles formant cet ouvrage sont précédées de quelques notes de l'auteur, qui nous informe s'il s'agit là d'une fiction, de «littérature» ou bien de la description autobiographique d'une torture quotidienne: l'attente du retour du mari, de Robert Antelme, des camps.Dans cette description à valeur historiographique, deux choses semblent pour moi être à retenir.D'abord la description du soin donné par Marguerite et ceux qui l'entourent de cet homme revenu des camps malade et sur le point de mourir. Ces soins quotidiens qu'elle prodigue, ces détails corporels et anatomiques extrêmement précis, cette manifestation putride de la douleur qui reste au fond du corps de l'homme; ce ne sont pas là des choses que l'on peut lire tous les jours dans des récits traitant de résistance. Ce combat simple du corps pour la vie défait la résistance de toute idéologie et s'en fait même le symbole. Ces hommes rapatriés ne sont réduits qu'à leur propre corps, le dernier bastion de leur résistance dans ce monde.Et c'est cette idée si fortement ressentie à la fin de ce premier chapitre qui teinte les autres textes, et nous fait prendre conscience de cette zone morale douteuse dans laquelle naviguent les résistants.Assassinats, traque, trahison et surtout torture, physique et en particulier mentale, sont leurs armes quotidiennes contre l'ennemi, l'ennemi omniprésent, tout autour et pourtant sans visage(s). Où est la moralité dans le combat pour la vie? Quelle est la valeur de la vie dans un combat politique ?

Sally Boyer

Brutal truths told in beautiful poetic prose. This memoir is a must-read for anyone with any sort of an opinion on war. Duras illustrates the irremediable pain of war for those left at home, waiting: "You don't exist any more in comparison with his waiting. More images pass through your head than there are on all the roads in Germany. Bursts of machine guns fire every minute inside your head. And yet you're still there, the bullets aren't fatal. Shot in transit. Dead with an empty stomach. His hunger wheels around in your head like a vulture. You can't give him anything. You can always hold out a piece of bread in the void. You don't even know if he still has need of bread." (p.34) And when peace comes to Paris, finally, in the spring of 1945 she is conscious, even in the moment, of how quickly we forget atrocity even when the pieces have yet to be picked up, even when there are still so many people suffering alone, waiting for loved ones who may never return:"April 28: Those waiting for peace aren't waiting, not at all. There's less and less reason for not having any news. Peace is visible already. It's like a great darkness falling, it's the beginning of forgetting. You can see already: Paris is lit up at night. The place Saint-Germain-des-Pres looks as if it's floodlit. The Cafe des Deux Magots is packed. It's still too cold for people to sit outside on he sidewalk. But the little restaurants are packed too. I went out, peace seemed imminent. I hurried back home, pursued by the peace. It had suddenly struck me that there might be a future, that a foreign land was going to emerge out of this chaos where no one would wait any more. There's no room for me here anywhere, I'm not here, I'm there with him in that region no one else can reach, no one else can know, where there's burning and killing." (pp. 47-8)Followed by the first third of the memoir, which was written in diary form, in the actual days of the end of the war, Duras writes about Rabier in the second section. Rabier is the German soldier who both arrested her husband and "befriends" Marguerite fascinated by her French artist persona. Rabier is a sad contradiction of a human and Marguerite both hates him and feels pity for him despite his crimes. Here are some powerful quotes from the last few pages of this recount:"I suddenly remember something I've been told about fear. That amid a hail of machine gun fire you notice the existence of your skin. A sixth sense emerges. I'm drunk. It wouldn't take much to make me tell him he's going to be killed. Perhaps one glass of wine would do it. Suddenly I'm full of the sort of ease and well-being you feel when you dive into the sea in summer." (p. 109)"I raise my right hand for a moment and pretend to aim at him--bang! He pedals on into eternity. He doesn't turn around. I laugh. I aim at the back of his neck. We're going very fast. His back stretches out, very big, ten feet away from me. Impossible to miss it..." (p. 110)"We tried to extract him from the due process of law and kill him ourselves, to save him from going through the usual channels of the courts. We'd even chosen the place--int he boulevard Saint-Germain, I can't remember exactly where. But we couldn't find him. So we told the police about him. They found him. He was in the camp at Drancy, alone." (p. 111)"I gave evidence twice at the trial. The second time because I'd forgotten before to mention the little Jewish child that he spared. I asked to be heard again. I said I'd forgotten to say he had saved a Jewish family, and told the story of the child's drawing. I also said I'd heard since then that he had saved two Jewish women, whom he smuggled into unoccupied France. The judge yelled at me, "Make up your mind--first you accused him, now you defend him. We haven't got time to waste here!" I answered that I wanted to tell the truth, wanted it to be said, in case those two facts might get him off the death penalty. The judge asked me to leave; he was furious. The whole courtroom was against me. I felt." (pp. 111-2)Another potent quote from this section of the memoir:"Rabier was afraid of his German colleagues. Germans were afraid of Germans. Rabier didn't realize how much the Germans frightened the people of countries occupied by their armies. The Germans were frightening in the same way as the Huns, int he same way as wolves, criminals, and above all, psychotic criminals. I'd never discovered how to express it, how to tell those who didn't live through it what sort of fear it was" (p. 88)The last third of the memoir is composed of two non-fiction short stories and two fictional shorts. The one about Ter of the Militia was particularly enchanting. Duras does a very good job of making you quickly find a soft spot for this far too young, silly, mindless traitor. However, the most fascinating passages of this second short true-life story deal with the Spaniards who were present in Paris at the time of its liberation and with Paris itself as a wilderness of people without organized law in the first few days after the end of the war:"He's [re: Hernandez] a hairdresser by trade, a Spanish Republican by dedication. And with the same ease and certainty he'd blow his own brains out if it would help to bring about the Spanish revolution. When they're not fighting, the Spaniards spend their time greasing the guns they've managed to get hold of. They know where to find them, they stay awake all night, they sleep very little, they talk on and on endlessly about the coming fight in Spain. They all expect to set out in the next few days. "Now it's Franco's turn," Hernandez always says. It keeps them awake at night; the Liberation of Paris is the Spaniard's inspiration." (p. 154)"It's a fine, bright day. No police. The police fought with the people of Paris and haven't resumed their normal functions since the Liberation. For three days there haven't been any police in the streets. Cars full of FFI drive about in all directions, even up no-entry streets, going extremely fast and swerving onto the sidewalk to pass. People are drunk with freedom, overcome by a frenzy of disobedience." (p. 156)"Ter is fascinated by the speed and the number of cars, by the guns protruding through their windows and shining in the sun." (p.156)


no time to review it, but highly recommend.

David Vanness

My edition with this cover is 1986, hardback, 183 pages, by Pantheon Books.


A very interesting account of life in Paris from 1944 written by one of France's most noted authors. Very honest and passionate.


This is an extraordinary book in which Duras expertly conveys the thoughts and feelings associated with her experience as a member of the French Resistance during WWII---thoughts and feelings that, if not for this book, I would have thought incommunicable. I've never read the extremes of human emotional experience---fright, angst, confusion, doubt, sorrow, panic, madness--- captured so accurately and compellingly. The book is comprised of 6 stories, 4 non-fiction, 2 fiction. The non-fiction stories are simply absorbing. In the first, Duras waits second by second, day after day, week after week, to hear word of her husband, a member of the Resistance who was arrested and sent to a German concentration camp. In the second, she recounts the delicate dance she performed in which she parried the advances of a Gestapo officer while keeping him close enough to mine him for information. The third is about her role in torturing an informer, and the fourth is about her conflicted feelings about an informer who is more simpleton than traitor.It is a brief book (159 pages). The material is fascinating, the writing extraordinary. I strongly recommend The War, A Memoir by Marguerite Duras.


Since 9/11, there has been much debate about whether torture is justified. Its apologists in the Bush-Cheney administration were eloquent about why it can sometimes be necessary. We were frequently told about ticking time-bombs and the threat of a mushroom cloud over an American city. Some horrifying stories surfaced from people who had been tortured at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere. But, and it just occurs to me now to think how odd this is, I don't recall reading one straightforward account told from the torturer's point of view. If you're curious, you can read one here. Marguerite Duras was a member of the Resistance in wartime France. In Albert des Capitales, one of the pieces in this book, she describes in her usual matter-of-fact way an incident that occurred a few days after the Liberation. She and the other members of her cell are hanging around when a waiter comes running in and says that there's a guy at his bistro who's an informer. Everyone in his home town knows he is. But they'll have to move fast and grab him before he disappears.So they rush into the café and arrest him. He's an overweight, unhealthy-looking guy in his 50s. He looks kind of dirty and unwashed. They make him empty his pockets. There's a notebook with names and addresses, and every so often the notation ALBERT DES CAPITALES. They want to know what this means. The guy thinks, or pretends to think, and then he says, oh yes, he's a waiter at another café, Les Capitales. He has a drink there sometimes on the way home. Okay, says the leader of the Resistance cell, this must be his contact. We need to start rolling up the network. He immediately sends three people over to arrest Albert, but they come back empty-handed. He left days ago. They figure they'll interrogate the informer anyway. He must be able to tell them something else, and if they wait the trail will go cold. The leader asks Marguerite if she wants to lead the interrogation. Why not, she says.They take the informer into a back room and order him to strip. He takes his clothes off slowly, hanging them up on the back of a chair so they won't get creased. One of the guys tells him to hurry up, they haven't got all day. He apologises and carries on removing his clothes. His underpants and socks are dirty. When he's naked, Marguerite asks him how to find Albert des Capitales. He answers evasively and the guys start hitting him a bit. Then Margurite asks him what he did when he visited the Gestapo headquarters. Nothing special, he says, moaning a bit and rubbing the places where they've hit him. I left my ID card at the door and went up. It was just some black market crap, nothing important.So what color was your card? asks Marguerite, but he won't answer. They hit him, and then they hit him more, and he's bleeding in several places. She asks him again what color his card was, and he still won't answer, so they carry on hitting and kicking him. Several other people have come in to watch. A couple of women say uncertainly that maybe this is enough. The leader says that anyone who thinks it's disgusting is welcome to leave. No one leaves.The informer's screaming and covered in blood as they kick him around like a ball. But he still won't say what color his card was. Marguerite tells him he'd better answer or they'll kill him. It looks like she means it. She tries different possibilities. Was it white? He moans no. Red? Also no. Yellow? No again.In the end, he screams out that it was green. That's the color that means he's an S.D. secret agent. Marguerite tells the guys to stop torturing him and let him put his clothes on. She goes out and sees a woman who'd missed all the fun.He confessed, says Marguerite. So fucking what? shrugs the woman. Marguerite starts crying. We should just let him go, she says. People won't like that, says the cell leader.She didn't get around to publishing this story until 1985. _______________________________________The "green card" plays an important role in Simenon's La Neige Etait Sale. It becomes clear that anyone who had a green card was a tool of the Nazi occupiers, and could legitimately be regarded as the worst kind of collaborator and traitor.


خانم مارگاریت عزیز؛ چند شب پیش بود که زدیم توی پر هم. بعد از آن می خواستم به دوراس خوانی فاصله ای بدهم. اما نمی دانم چه شد که کتاب درد را شروع کردم. داستان-کوتاه بلند درد و داستان کوتاه پیر رابیه تان حرف نداشت. می دانید خانم دوراس! باز همان احساس گناهی را دارم که بعد از خواندن صفحه ی آخر وداع با اسلحه داشتم. باز همان شرمندگی حاصل از حیرت صحنه ی پاره شدن دل و روده ی اسب رمان در جبهه ی غرب خبری نیست بیخ گلویمان را گرفت. احساس گناه از این که لذت می بری از خواندن داستانی که قساوت بشر را می کوبد توی صورتش. شرمندگی... شرمندگی... خانم مارگاریت عزیز! هنوز یادم نمی آید که خاطره یا داستانی نظیر دردتان خوانده باشم که تویش این چنین مجروح جنگی به مثابه ی یک ضایعه ی جنگی تصویر شده باشد؛ ضایعه ای چنان اسف بار که خیلی واقع بینانه و سرراست گند بزند به انتظار. بله خانم مارگاریت، چقدر خوب تصویر کرده اید انتظاری را که هیچ وقت نباید به سر می رسید. چقدر خوب ما را در این موقعیت تحقیرآمیز قرار داده اید. شما آدم بزرگی نیستید، اما شاید بزرگی تان در همین جسارت تان باشد که نمی خواهید خودتان را از آنچه که لایقش هستید بزرگ تر نشان دهید. برای دوست داشتن یک زن چه چیزی بیشتر از این؟

Mina kh

بازم نازی ها ولی اینبار داستان رو از طرف خانواده های اسارت گرفته شده ها و فعال های سیاسی میبینیم.پی یر رابیه بهترین داستانش بود.


An important perspective of world war two. This memoir is modernist and investigates the problems of truth in writing a memoir. A lovely and terrifying story. I'm a better person for having read it.

Miriam Nickerson

This story, focused on a woman waiting for the possible return of her husband after the liberation of the camps, is a very different view of the Holocaust. Did he survive? Is he returning? Where? How? When? What will it be like? Beautiful language.

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