Thursday, 5 February 2015

Book Review: A Good Place to Hide by Peter Grose

Reviewed by Anne Hamilton

I’m not sure if the writer is a Christian but he’s Australian. And the story is such a significant one, about Christian compassion in time of war, that it seems appropriate to review this book—even if it is a bit of a ‘ring-in’.

I first came across the story of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon towards the end of Unspeakable by Os Guinness. After discussing the enigma of a good God in a world of appalling evil, Guinness turns the tables and relates the story of Jewish historian Philip Hallie.

An acclaimed author and respected scholar, Hallie was an expert on the Holocaust. After years of study, he discovered to his horror that you become what you read. One traumatic night, he left his family home and walked for hours until he reached his office. Looking around in despair, his gaze alighted on his shelf of books about the French Resistance. Thinking that the heroism of these tales always made him feel better, he went to it and there noticed a book he’d never read before.

After just a few pages, he found tears on his face. Impossible, he thought. But his heart, hardened and calloused by decades of studying atrocities, broke open at a story of irresistible, unmitigated goodness. The villages surrounding Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, on an isolated plateau in central France, had been instrumental in saving thousands of Jewish children.

As Guinness told it, it was a profoundly affecting story: Philip Hallie was perhaps the last Jew to be saved by the villagers of the Plateau.

So it was with great eagerness I approached A Good Place to Hide. It’s workman-like, rather than impacting. It’s missing the emotional wallop I was expecting—I’d been brought to tears by Hallie’s story but this is a brisk and business-like account, not a spiritual rollercoaster. It is dotted throughout with a dry, laconic Aussie humour which, while it raises a smile, sometimes strikes a discordant note.

Grose brings a journalist’s background as he relates the both the individual and collective stories of the pastors, the doctors, the carers, the forgers, the police, the resistance fighters—even the Nazis themselves. He points out that Hallie who went on to make the village famous through his own book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed made many mistakes in this account—though he also got much right.

At the start of the Second World War, the predominately Huguenot villagers of the Plateau were influenced by their ardently pacifist minister André Trocmé to take in refugees from all over occupied Europe. These included Jewish children who had been interned in camps across France prior to being shipped off to Auschwitz or Buchenwald. These ‘legitimate’ registered children made it possible to conceal others in town, under the noses of German soldiers, who were there to recuperate and recover after fighting on the Russian Front.

An astonishing account of what Christians, working together with love and compassion, can achieve. Too often we read inspiring accounts of particular Christians and, heroic as they are, Christianity was never meant to be a faith renowned for its rugged individualism. Rather it is meant to be a story of the Body of Christ, all parts working together. Here is such an account.

Despite its sarcastic wit and investigative-reporting style, this is a moving story of which all Christians should be aware.

Publisher’s Blurb:

This is the story of an isolated community in the upper reaches of the Loire Valley that conspired to save the lives of 3500 Jews under the noses of the Germans and the soldiers of Vichy France. It is the story of a pacifist Protestant pastor who broke laws and defied orders to protect the lives of total strangers. It is the story of an eighteen-year-old Jewish boy from Nice who forged 5000 sets of false identity papers to save other Jews and French Resistance fighters from the Nazi concentration camps.

And it is the story of a community of good men and women who offered sanctuary, kindness, solidarity and hospitality to people in desperate need, knowing full well the consequences to themselves.

Powerful and richly told, A Good Place to Hide speaks to the goodness and courage of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

Allen & Unwin
RRP $32.99
1 June 2014

Anne Hamilton loves stories of ordinary heroism. Her forthcoming children’s fantasy The Days are Numbered is about ordinary kids who have no magic to help them, only courage and a desire for peace.

5 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your review Annie. I found the writing a bit dry so that at times it didn't quite have the emotional impact it should have. It was understated in a lot of ways yet packed with information.I hadn't read anything about this before so I found it all interesting.

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  2. Thanks for this review Annie. Dry as the book sounds, I would love to read another inspiring story about people, Christians, who didn't acquiesce to the Nazi horror but risked their lives to save Jews from the ovens. I love your point about Christian community. Even Corrie Ten Boom did not work along but with her extended family and community. I will be adding it to by to-read list.

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  3. A helpful review like yours really makes the difference between getting the book or passing. The price is a bit steep, though. Still it's an important part of history. It's encouraging that Christians don't always have to speak out, their actions are what counts.

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  4. Sounds like an interesting book Anne. A shame the style is a bit workmanlike, but I'd be interested in reading about it. The Hiding Place is still one of my favourite books of all time, and I've loved novels like The Book Thief and All The Light You Cannot See, but I haven't read much about the French resistance. Might give this one a try. Thanks for your review.

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  5. Thanks, Anne. I am about to add it to my 'library list' to check out if they have it and read as time permits.

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