Five reasons why you should read this book
1/ It is authentic. Unlike most, if not all, contemporary books on the subject, The fortress is the result of half a life in the Vercors. I was born there, I grew up there, I am French before anything else. But it was when I emigrated to the USA in my mid-twenties, that realized it, and it took many more years for me to finally be ready to share the experience.
2/My family was involved in the war.
Three of my uncles were condemned to death for collaborating with the Vichy government, a puppet of the Nazis. Their sentences were eventually commuted to national disgrace, and ten years of forced labor—thanks to my father, who had fought with honor during the war and was able to litigate a lighter sentence with the subsequent political swamp of the liberation. My uncles had to leave the area to avoid being murdered, but we stayed. The book captures all the complexities of growing up in a small community torn by four years of war, occupation, and political strife, as the children of traitors.
3/ It is a little-known but very interesting WWII chapter.
The Battle of the Vercors started with a dream of freedom. When Pierre Dalloz and Jean Prévost conceived of the Plan des Montagnards for the Vercors in 1941, France was defeated, its army disbanded, its people divided and demoralized. Yet three years later, a small force was growing beyond the cliff, entrusted by the Allies with a mission to disrupt German movements after Overlord in Normandy and Anvil on the Mediterranean coast. But the dream fell short, with no Mediterranean landing or backup. The paratroopers who did come were German. The small army of the Vercors, the first Maquis of France, its first free republic under Nazi occupation, was abandoned to its fate. For six weeks, they fought with fierce and sometimes desperate courage a force twenty times superior in size, equipment, and training. They were slaughtered, even tortured in the mountain’s sawmills. Hundreds were deported to their death. Yet the survivors regrouped and joined the FFI to continue the fight, eventually joining the liberation armies all the way to Germany.
4/ It is not the usual French dish.
No haute-couture, haute-cuisine, or Cote d’Azur. And it’s very far from Paris, thank God. You will get to know a side of France you do not suspect. All the characters are modeled from people who were there, like Father De Rosa or Lovrenc the Slovenian, or people I have known, true Vertacomicoriens, as they are called, after the Celtic tribe that lived there when the Romans invaded Gaule. It is an insular people, jealous of their traditions, proud of their unique history.
5/ It’s a war book, driven by a love story
It will be your next vacation spot.
The Vercors is breathtakingly beautiful. Look it up. Imagine yourself hiking the trails along a canyon stream to the top of the cliffs. Listen to the waterfalls, the silence of the pine forests, the ruins of an abandoned monastery, a marble plaque screwed to the rock where someone was murdered by the Nazis—there are many of those up there. Soon enough you’ll be wondering whose footsteps you are following on the steep trails, whose whispers in the woods, whose shadows under the cliffs, and you may find that there are ghosts roaming around the heights
This is their story.
ABOUT THE BOOK
by Madeleine Romeyer Dherbey
GENRE: WWII Historical
The war has not made much of difference in Alix’s life. Her father has seen to it that she grows up unaware, unworried, but safe in her tiny village under the cliffs of the Vercors. All around her he has built a fortress whose walls are impregnable—until the 27th of April, 1944. That day he makes a stupid mistake up on the cliff, and the walls of the Fortress start crashing down. Reality breaks into Alix’s life with unrelenting violence, unforeseen possibilities. From now on, every decision she makes will mean life or death.
Six weeks before D-Days, a thousand kilometers from the beaches of Normandy.
There are no generals in the French Vercors, just a handful of men and women against the Nazi war machine. They come from Bretagne, Paris, and Slovenia, and the villages up on the cliff. They are the Fortress.
“Honey, if anybody’s looking for it up here, it means you’re already dead. So it won’t matter to you. Listen now. People will call you on the other phone, the one downstairs, and give you coded messages. As a rule it will be about movements in our direction, Germans, Militia, or even new recruits for our camps. Remember, the security of Mortval depends on you. Here is a list of codes. You must memorize all of them and get rid of the list.”
She started to read. “The strawberries are in their juice. Your walnuts were wormy. You can’t put rabbit in the cassoulet.” She looked up. “Are they all about food?”
“No. Read the next one.”
“Yvette préfère les grosses carrottes. Well?”
“Well, it’s not about food.”
“Yvette préfère… Oh. I understand now. Did you come up with that one?”
“I thought it would be memorable.”
“It’s lovely. I bet the British are impressed.”
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Madeleine Romeyer Dherbey was born in the French Alps, moved to the United States twenty-five years later, and currently lives in the mountains of Virginia with her husband, two daughters, and Mikko.
Madeleine Romeyer Dherbey will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
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