His family has a distinguished military history. Gerard was raised an Air Force brat by his Strategic Air Command pilot father and French mother, a native of Le Havre. Those facts enrich his writing.
This historical novel follows dual protagonists, Ti-Jean Campion and Marie-Claude Le Goff, life-long citizens of the French seaport Le Havre, which was occupied from 1940-45 by the Germans during World War II. At the start of the war, French citizens in this idyllic seaside city had fresh memories of the defeat of Germany in World War I.
“The lifestyle of Le Havre’s local population, for the most part, remained the same, ” Gerard writes. “Ration cards, breadlines, and the Marche’ noir, or black market, were thus far not harsh realities of life.” They reasoned “maybe the Germans were not so bad. Maybe we could live in peace with them during the occupation of the city.”
Things soon changed. The two young protagonists are consumed with their love for each other—and with preserving free France, along with fellow Resistance fighters, Les Chevalier du Normandy. They often meet at Le Chat Noir, The Black Cat, planning strategy and sipping espresso and in their more-secluded safe house away from Gestapo prying eyes.
This suspense-filled story alternates between 1999 and the years of occupation with vivid descriptions of Le Havre in war and peace. Such as: “Ti-Jean continued to walk toward the end of the walkway. The sun began to show through the puffy, white clouds turning the brown sandy beach into an artist’s palette of oranges, reds, and blues mixed with the rainbow of colors of the latest designer swimwear.”
And: ” The two lovers gradually drifted off to a dreamless sleep, leaving the phantasmagoric world they existed in behind for a better place without threat or harm. Marie-Claude closed her eyes tightly and tenderly touched her lover’s face with her graceful fingers.”
The German invaders ruthlessly took homes and food and any creature comforts they desired from the citizens of Le Havre. German officer, sipping brandy and looking out the bay window at a beautiful villa shouted at his aide, ” I want that villa by the end of the cliff to be appropriated: evict the family living there.”
The German Navy moved a U-Boat into the city harbor and covered it with camouflage, protecting it from possible deconstruction by allied bombers. The Resistance had to find out what surprise the U-Boat Captain was planning. The fate of the harbor city of Le Havre— and perhaps all of Europe—hinged on the what lay hidden in the hold of the German U-Boat.
This novel is magnificent and tragic. Ce roman est magnifique et tragique.