THE ALGERIA HOTEL: France, Memory and the Second World War

Adam Nossiter, Author . Houghton Mifflin $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-395-90245-5

Nossiter takes on some weighty issues in this disappointing study. A former New York Times journalist and author of Of Long Memory: Mississippi and the Murder of Medgar Evers, he spent part of his childhood in De Gaulle's France, which prided itself on resisting the Nazis, until in later decades, a much uglier truth—France' s cooperation with the Nazi regime and its deportation of Jews—began to come to light. Nossiter attempts to explore the effects of this double consciousness through three communities. First, he focuses on the trial, in Bordeaux, of Maurice Papon, who was instrumental in deporting French Jews to the camps of Eastern Europe. Nossiter then moves on to Vichy, a resort town–turned–headquarters of Pétain's Collaborationist government. The book's last section deals with the southern working-class town of Tulle, where, in retaliation for a Resistance raid, the SS rounded up the town's men and publicly hanged 99 of them in a single afternoon. Nossiter has done his homework: the book is replete with names, facts, anecdotes and observations. But he set himself a near-impossible task—to take the pulse of an entire country—and compounds it with a first-person narrative that keeps readers from engaging with the people and events described. Add to this the fact that Nossiter is delving back 50 years, and the result is a series of disconnected and uneven vignettes connected by Nossiter's constant reminders to readers of what he's trying to do. His voice is not compelling enough to carry such a lengthy, weighty narrative. Nossiter's exploration will likely be sought out only by Francophiles (and Francophobes) and those interested in scholarly research on the topic. (July 16)

Reviewed on: 06/25/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
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