And the Show Went On

The Cultural Life of Nazi-Occupied Paris

Alan Riding

pages October 2010 History

Chosen as one of the top books of the year in The New Yorker
A Washington Post-Notable Nonfiction, 2011
Spear’s Book Award for Social History of the Year, 2011
Palau i Fabre International non-Fiction Prize, Spain, 2011

“[An] enthralling and disturbing book.” -The New York Times  

“Riveting. . . A fine book.” -The Washington Times  

“His weighing of the complexities of the time is splendidly shrewd.. a triumph.” – LA Times
“I think Alan Riding’s book is easily the best account in English of the experience of French writers and artists under the German occupation of 1940-1944. It is lively, vivid, engaging, and accurate.”
– Robert Paxton

“Alan Riding is the journalist as discoverer.  As much as we may know of the Nazi occupation of France, Riding leads us from discovery to discovery, from the defeat in 1940 to the liberation in 1944. But the stars here are the cameos of history:  theater, cinema, literature, the press, music.  Who was who ?  Who collaborated, who whinged, who went underground, who simply sipped cocktails ? What a nation was, what it became, how it survived.  This is an epic from the bottom up. Vive Riding !” – Carlos Fuentes

On June 14, 1940, German tanks rolled into a silent and deserted Paris. Eight days later, a humbled France accepted defeat along with foreign occupation. The only consolation was that, while the swastika now flew over Paris, the City of Light was undamaged. Soon, a peculiar kind of normality returned as theaters, opera houses, movie theaters and nightclubs reopened for business. This suited both conquerors and vanquished: the Germans wanted Parisians to be distracted, while the French could show that, culturally at least, they had not been defeated. Over the next four years, the artistic life of Paris flourished with as much verve as in peacetime. 
Riding introduces us to a panoply of writers, painters, composers, actors and dancers who kept working throughout the occupation. Chevalier and Piaf sang before French and German audiences. Picasso, whose art was officially banned, continued to paint in his Left Bank apartment. More than two hundred new French films were made, including Carné’s classic, Les Enfants du paradis. Thousands of books were published by authors as different as the virulent anti-Semite Céline and the anti-Nazis Camus and Sartre. Meanwhile, as Jewish performers and creators were being forced to flee or, like Némirovsky, deported to death camps, a small number of artists and intellectuals joined the resistance. 
Throughout this penetrating and unsettling account, Riding keeps alive the quandaries facing many of these artists. Were they “saving” French culture by working? Were they betraying France if they performed before German soldiers or made movies with Nazi approval? Was it the intellectual’s duty to take up arms against the occupier? Then, after Paris was liberated, what was deserving punishment for artists who had committed “intelligence with the enemy”? By throwing light on this critical moment of twentieth-century European cultural history, And the Show Went On focuses anew on whether artists and writers have a special duty to show moral leadership in moments of national trauma.