Read of the Week

The Saboteur: True adventures of the gentleman commando who took on the Nazis

Paul Kix

William Collins

Review: Roshiela Moonsamy

The Saboteur is the true story of the late French World War II veteran, Robert de La Rochefoucauld.

In what he describes as a work of narrative non-fiction, author Paul Kix writes about La Rochefoucauld’s experience of taking on the Nazis as a special operative and résistant in occupied France.

La Rochefoucauld’s tale involves escaping to England to be trained in the art of anarchy and returning to France to put his skills to use in the Resistance. He also manages two daring escapes from the Nazis.

Before all this, Kix takes care to set the context in which the 17-year-old La Rochefoucauld finds himself in 1940 and the reasons that propel him to join the Resistance.

As a reader, I appreciate the hard work that
has gone into bringing this slice of history to
life.

Kix has pieced it together from a few primary sources, such as La Rochefoucauld’s memoir, La Liberté, c’est mon plaisir: 1940-1946; an audio recording in which La Rochefoucauld recounts his story for his children and grandchildren; a DVD produced by his nephew which details the story of their aristocratic family; as well as extensive research through interviews and sifting through books and military and historical documents.

Though La Rochefoucauld went on to live a full life, with his own family and as mayor of the town of Ouzouer-sur-Tré* ée for 30 years, like many of those who witness the ravages of conflict, he suffered trauma and a deep sense of guilt and, for a long time, refused to discuss his experiences in the war.

A number of honours were bestowed upon him for his bravery by the French government, including the War Cross; the Medal of the Resistance; a medal for escaping German imprisonment and, 52 years after the war, the country’s highest military distinction, the Legion of Honour.

Unfortunately, La Rochefoucauld’s story does not end there, and late in his life, he would be thrust into the public spotlight again as he chose to support a former French state official who was put on trial in 1997 for deporting Jews during the occupation.

La Rochefoucauld believed that Maurice Papon had secretly worked for the Resistance and had warned Jews about searches and raids.

Papon was found guilty of “crimes against humanity”, but Kix puts the trial in the context of both La Rochefoucauld’s experience and the history of France and says, “The affair became less about one man’s actions than a country forced to reckon with its past.”

This book will be of interest to history buffs, those who enjoy biographies as well as adventure-story fans as some of La Rochefoucauld‘s escapades will leave you holding your breath.

La Rochefoucauld died in 2012, on May 8, a significant date as it commemorates V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day, which marked the turning point in the war that left an indelible mark on his life.