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The Saboteur: The Aristocrat Who Became France's Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando

Review

The Saboteur: The Aristocrat Who Became France's Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando

The cover of this book promises a biography of Robert de La Rochefoucauld, the “Saboteur” of the title, that is “as fast-paced and emotionally intuitive as the very best spy thrillers” --- and it delivers just that. Paul Kix’s debut nonfiction account is based on La Rochefoucauld’s own memoir, but he has supplemented it with careful research to broaden the focus and provide context for his subject’s remarkable story. In so doing, he also has made it accessible to readers who may not be totally familiar with how World War II was fought beyond the trenches.

Born into one of the oldest and most aristocratic French families, La Rochefoucauld was a teenager when the Nazis invaded France in 1939. By lying about his age, he set out the following year to join Charles de Gaulle’s Free French, which was operating out of London. He made his way to Spain, but was caught and imprisoned --- before making the first of three amazing escapes from captivity.

"Paul Kix’s debut nonfiction account is based on La Rochefoucauld’s own memoir, but he has supplemented it with careful research to broaden the focus and provide context for his subject’s remarkable story."

After La Rochefoucauld made his way to London, a chance encounter resulted in an offer to join the fledgling Special Operations Executive, Winston Churchill’s brainchild. He agreed to do so, but only if de Gaulle supported the decision. When he was ushered into the General’s presence and posed the question, de Gaulle’s response was typical: “It’s still for France, even if it’s allied with the Devil. Go!”

After intensive training, La Rochefoucauld parachuted into Vichy France to work with the Resistance, but was soon captured and imprisoned. Conditions at the prison near the town of Auxerre were appalling, and he was regularly tortured. Finally, La Rochefoucauld was tried and sentenced to death --- but, on his way to the firing squad, he decided to overcome his drivers and make a run for it. His escape involved stealing an SS car and dressing as a nun, and thanks to sympathetic villagers, he managed to evade capture, once again making his way to London.

La Rochefoucauld’s last mission turns out to be both his most dangerous and the most brazen. Kix’s description of hanging from netting above a casement that surrounded a Nazi stronghold is vivid, and La Rochefoucauld’s success in destroying the almost impregnable garrison was celebrated by his confrères.

The story doesn’t quite end there. In a surprising twist, years after the war, La Rochefoucauld found himself confronting a man accused of collaborating with the Nazis and was forced to decide if he believed in his innocence. His decision reflects the courage he exhibited in wartime.

THE SABOTEUR is a book about one man overcoming his own fear in service of his homeland, but Paul Kix uses Robert de La Rochefoucauld’s experiences to explore what it was like to survive in a country overtaken by the enemy, and the courage it took to fight back when those around you have acquiesced. It’s an inspiring tale.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on January 5, 2018

The Saboteur: The Aristocrat Who Became France's Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando
by Paul Kix

  • Publication Date: December 5, 2017
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062322524
  • ISBN-13: 9780062322524