The Laurels of Lake Constance
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It is 1936, and Albert B. is one of the first French citizens to join the Fascist party. During the war, he becomes a collaborator. It's only a matter of time before he dons a German uniform himself. Taking place in the limbo between the moment of Albert's initial "fall" and his inevitable capture, following the Allied invasion of Mainau, "The Laurels of Lake Constance" is the story not only of Albert himself, but of his daughter, who must endure the paradox of loving a man whose beliefs and allegiances are nothing short of catastrophic.
Beautifully translated by novelist Harry Mathews, "The Laurels of Lake Constance" is a profoundly moving story about both war and childhood, and their intersection in one household, conjured in all its details, be they beautiful or shameful: a resigned mother playing music, a father absent, an era frozen in a tragic fresco where novelistic detail mixes with history.
have a drink.” “Juliette, Alice: the suitcases must be ready in half an hour. Bring only the bare minimum.” Louis lowers his head. He tells himself that he will load his gun, wall up the wine cellar, and take down the photograph of Marshal Pétain. Then he will put on his best suit and wait for them. Today or tomorrow, they will surely come and jeer at him—the patriarch of the “château,” the old man who had Germans as guests in his house. The parting is heartrending but brief: unnecessary
non-Communist element in France. Will we have to justify our policies of the past four years? I’ll take care of that! “Albert, the real struggle is only beginning. You’re going to take charge of the Liberation Committee’s clandestine activities. You can choose your own men, inside or outside the party. My only condition is: no factionalism! First and foremost, union against bolshevism, and a brotherly fight for social peace.” “Let me think about it. Perhaps there are some internal problems we
night’s message announced the arrival of Allied troops and recommended we keep out of sight. The weather is marvelous. Through our binoculars, we can make out red-and-white flags flying from the tops of buildings in the direction of Feldkirch: the Austrian colors. In an hour the entire valley is covered with white and red-and-white flags. At ten o’clock, there are a few explosions; then tanks in close order; and soon after, trucks. On their sides we recognize the French flag. We are in the
Everybody sits down. Everyone sighs. You hear only the clatter of spoon on dish and the gurgle of soup being swallowed. I’ve been good long enough. I finish my soup, I put down my spoon, and I shout: “So, who is the king in this court?” Spoons stop in mid air. They glance at one another and burst out laughing. Soon, paying no more attention to me, they all start talking. Having six FPPs in the dock is no good for Albert. . . . The indictment was very hard . . . The defense will have a hard
bunch of keys is banging against it. It opens. He comes in, a guard leading him by the wrist. A metallic rattle frees him. He stretches his arms in my direction, Mother presses me toward him. He bends down. His cheek is rough, and he smells of lavender and tobacco. Mother gently approaches him, and I wrap their two necks in my arms. Forehead to forehead, they shut their eyes. For a long time they do not stir. I breathe in their mingled breath and scent. To hold them, once, both of them,