THE ENGLISHMAN'S DAUGHTER: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War One

Ben Macintyre, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $24 (272p) ISBN 978-0-374-12985-9

Innumerable soldiers were stranded behind enemy lines in World War I—some injured, some lost, some sole survivors of decimated regiments. Macintyre (The Napoleon of Crime) has uncovered the story of a small band of English soldiers who, in 1914, were found and sheltered by the peasants of Villeret, a small French village near the Somme River. When the German occupiers became more intrusive in local life, billeting their troops in private homes and confiscating supplies, the French took a more collective approach to hiding the Brits—sharing their food and housing among a network of families. One soldier was hidden in an armoire, another dressed as a girl; somehow, most did their best and eventually passed themselves off as locals. Private Robert Digby, the hero of this tale, blended in so successfully—"It's almost like he was running for mayor," said one villager—that he fell in love with the local belle, Claire Dessenne. At first, hiding the British was a unifying act of resistance, but by 1916, after years of hunger and occupation, solidarity broke. The four remaining British soldiers—including Digby, now the father of young Hélène Dessenne—were rounded up and executed. Who turned them in? Claire's spurned rival? A spy turned informer? While Macintyre is satisfyingly thorough in his attempt to solve this long-buried mystery, he is even better at recreating the texture of day-to-day life in rural, occupied France. As readers grope with understanding our present war, they may find this more remote one oddly instructive. Weapons may change, but it's the people—some treacherous, some brave, but most of them in between—who count. B&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Ed Victor. (Jan.)

Forecast:This title has the potential to break out of the war genre; fans of Michael Ondaatje and Jayne Ann Phillips should enjoy this tale of love and its consequences.

Reviewed on: 12/03/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 354 pages - 978-1-58724-232-8
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