Robert Harris always does a super job with his historic novels – Enigma, Archangel, Pompei, Lustrum, Imperium etc. This one is no different. The Dreyfus affair was a corner stone of French public affairs around the turn of the century and informed much public opinion till after the first world war.
Alfred Dreyfus was a Captain in the French army, of Alsatian Jewish background, and was wrongly convicted of passing military secrets to Germany. He was imprisoned on Devil’s Island near South America having been ‘degraded’ – stripped of rank and social standing. Seemingly a minor matter in the country’s affairs, it came to have huge effect on the Army, French society, politics and government.
Robert Harris has fictionalised the story of incompetence, anti-semitism, injustice, fraud, lies, murder, passion and intrigue.
One of the main players from the Dreyfus Affair is Lieutenant-Colonel Georges Picquart who discovered the real culprit responsible for the espionage of which Dreyfus was convicted. Picquart is the author’s narrator and the book is written from his perspective. Picquart suffers greatly for his involvement.
This minor episode of French history is turned into a compelling thriller with all the elements you might find in a James Bond novel! There are few gadgets and no car chases but otherwise it’s all there and ALL TRUE! The dialogue and some details are the stuff of fiction, as are the personal reflections and responses of all the characters. That serves to bind, season and flavour the facts which will be surprising to most, apart from European history scholars.
The UK Guardian said…
“Against the odds, the [book] is both gripping thriller and Buchan-esque adventure: its revelations impeccably paced and its original material used to poignant effect”
Great, informative, absorbing reading. Highly recommended
$32.95 large PB
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