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Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944

Jean Guéhenno; David Ball (Translator)

Oxford University Press, 2014

Jean Guéhenno's Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1945 is the most oft-quoted piece of testimony on life in occupied France. A sharply observed record of day-to-day life under Nazi rule in Paris and a bitter commentary on literary life in those years, it has also been called "a remarkable essay on courage and cowardice" (Caroline Moorehead, Wall Street Journal). Here, David Ball provides not only the first English-translation of this important historical document, but also the first ever annotated, corrected edition.Guéhenno was a well-known political and cultural critic, left-wing but not communist, and uncompromisingly anti-fascist. Unlike most French writers during the Occupation, he refused to pen a word for a publishing industry under Nazi control. He expressed his intellectual, moral, and emotional resistance in this diary: his shame at the Vichy government's collaboration with Nazi Germany, his contempt for its falsely patriotic reactionary ideology, his outrage at its anti-Semitism and its vilification of the Republic it had abolished, his horror at its increasingly savage repression and his disgust with his fellow intellectuals who kept on blithely writing about art and culture as if the Occupation did not exist - not to mention those who praised their new masters in prose and poetry. Also a teacher of French literature, he constantly observed the young people he taught, sometimes saddened by their conformism but always passionately trying to inspire them with the values of the French cultural tradition he loved. Guéhenno's diary often includes his own reflections on the great texts he is teaching, instilling them with special meaning in the context of the Occupation. Complete with meticulous notes and a biographical index, Ball's edition of Guéhenno's epic diary offers readers a deeper understanding not only of the diarist's cultural allusions, but also of the dramatic, historic events through which he lived.

Praise for Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: 

"[A] significant book, now made accessible to an anglophone audience in what is a powerful translation. ... [Diary of the Dark Years] is a rewarding work worth savouring slowly, as you dip into the life and mind of Jean Guéhenno." —H-France

"A model writer and intellectual who neither collaborated nor accommodated the enemy, [Guéhenno] refused to publish a single word as long as his country was under Nazi control. A leading essayist of the Popular Front, regularly skewered by the far right, he vowed, as of July 1940, to confine his thoughts and feelings to a private journal. It is a mystery why 'Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944,' first published in 1947 and still a standard reference in France, is only now appearing in English in a fine translation by David Ball... Mr. Ball, who has succeeded in giving Guéhenno's grand diction the emotional charge it has in the original French, has provided extensive notes, as well as a biographical dictionary, so that no reference is left obscure." —The New York Times

"This first English translation flows easily, greatly aided by both a biographical dictionary and Ball's explanatory footnotes regarding historical events. Easily adaptable for class/group readings, Guéhenno's diary, first published in 1947, emotionally depicts WWII through his despair over France's invasion; wry observations of the 'gray men' populating the darkened, desolate city; exhaustion and, ultimately, joy." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Compelling.... crisply translated, a fascinating blend of inward monologue and acute exterior observations." —Wall Street Journal

"I was struck repeatedly by the beauty, the passion, the elegance of Guéhenno's words as rendered in English.... For today's readers, Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944 is not just a cautionary tale about freedom lost but a thought-provoking story of how an abiding love of country and determined courage can help regain it." —Chicago Tribune

"Every once in a while, however, an extraordinary document comes along to remind us that the books matter. The diary kept by the French writer and critic Jean Guéhenno during the German occupation of France from 1940 to 1944 is one such document.... [A] genuinely important and enthralling book, and its publication in English in an excellent, fluid, and expertly annotated translation by David Ball is a welcome and long overdue event." —The New Republic

"Ball's work...is exemplary. Ball does full justice to the powerful prose of Guéhenno, a highly principled man of letters and teacher of literature who refused to published a single line as long as his country endured 'the anguish of servitude'.... Essential." —CHOICE