Innocence in an Adult World
A coming-of-age story that pays tribute to the heroic and humane
`LE PETIT GARCON" is a novel about a boy growing up in a small town in Vichy, France at the time of the Nazi occupation. The author, Philippe Labro, is a filmmaker, former journalist, and current program director for a French radio network, who has also written several previous novels, including "The Foreign Student" (1988) - a loosely based account of his experiences as an exchange student in the United States.Skip to next paragraph
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Narrated in the style of a memoir, "Le Petit Garcon" is a charmingly old-fashioned, unabashedly poignant book that wears its heart on its sleeve. Simple, straightforward, and touching enough to appeal to a wide readership, it is also graceful, polished, and reflective enough to elicit critical esteem.
The story unfolds in an unspoiled rural corner of southwestern France, where the narrator, his six older brothers and sisters, and their parents lead an idyllic life in a large house and farm some distance from the village. At first, we see only the carefree and secure little world of a happy childhood: the games and standing jokes of a large family; the children's funny nicknames for their teachers; their comic misapprehensions and oddly perceptive insights about their neighbors; the special album they keep to record their impressions of the world around them. But before long, we, like the children, are made aware of happenings in the larger world that will soon impinge on their own.
Their father, a distinguished lawyer and a man of keen, pessimistic political foresight, decided to move his family here from Paris, which has already fallen into German hands as the story begins. Here, in the beautiful, remote countryside where he grew up, the father hopes to raise his children in safety and to instill in them the values he holds dear.
While the little boy dreams of being a hero, like the characters in the books he has read, the real hero of the book turns out to be his father, who all the while has been sheltering Jewish refugees at great risk to himself and to the family of whom he is so protective. Gradually and naturally, the children are let into the secret, and this knowledge helps form their characters.
The children's mother is a sweet, gentle woman 18 years younger than her husband. Beneath her still-girlish exterior, however, she is a strong woman whose deep capacity for love sustains her family and whose quiet conviction enables her to stand up to the Germans, who come to occupy the town in November of 1942.
The mother is an orphan: "Father sometimes liked to think that he was taking the place of the father his wife had never had...." But, as her son comes to realize, her ability to survive a shattered childhood is evident in the "maternal solicitude" she shows for husband and children alike.
The novel derives a curious power from the contrast between the immense importance of the adult values that the children learn from their parents and the simplicity of the ways and words used to convey these values.