Archive for the ‘Robert Harris’ Category

I actually abandoned mystery series this month, and not only read, but finished a work of import and historical value, An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris. I was led to it by a Post book review–written by a reporter found reliable in the past–put a library hold on it before word got around, received it quickly, and realized the Post had got it right again.

While “Historical fiction” is something I usually read with reservations, concerned that the author will take liberties with the facts and leave me with “false memories”–having learned the writer’s fantasized version of the past and not the real thing. I was relieved to realize there was no such danger in this work.

Dreyfus and other military officers

Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, standing, facing left, with three other French military officers (Library of Congress)

The book recounts the Dreyfus Affair, short summary here, pulled from long long wiki: “The Dreyfus affair…..was a political scandal that divided France from the affair’s inception in 1894 until its resolution in 1906. The affair is often seen as a modern and universal symbol of injustice for reasons of state and remains one of the most striking examples of a complex miscarriage of justice where a major role was played by the press and public opinion. The affair began in November 1894 with the conviction for treason of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a young French artillery officer of Alsatian Jewish descent. Sentenced to life imprisonment for allegedly having communicated French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris, Dreyfus was sent to the penal colony at Devil’s Island in French Guiana, where he spent almost five years. Two years later, in 1896, evidence came to light identifying a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy as the real culprit.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreyfus_affair

The affair divided French opinion for over a decade, as few things have. The book is the story of the events from the point of view of Major Picquart, the army intelligence officer who became convinced of Dreyfus’ innocence soon after he was sent to Devil’s Island, and heroically pursued justice for the wrongly accused and condemned Dreyfus, while his army colleagues were intent only on hiding the truth, claiming it was not in the public interest to reveal the army’s mistaken judgment, its lengthy cover-up, and that it permitted the “real” spy to escape with neither pursuit nor public condemnation.

Well-told tale, good read–and Roman Polanski has announced he intends to make the film. He’s good, but wonder if he can top Hollywood’s 1937 black-and-white version of the effect of Dreyfus on French Society: The Life of Emile Zola, Netflix has it on DVD.


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