Roger Grenier, Introduction to Alice Kaplan’s presentation of THE
Paris, October 6, 2005
The Village Voice Bookshop/ La Librairie Village Voice
have to explain why I am here to present Alice Kaplan’s new book, THE
First of all, I should say that I knew her while she was doing research for
her book about the trial of Robert Brasillach. She wanted to meet me
because, as a journalist after the Liberation, I attended many trials of
collaborators. Unfortunately, not Robert Brasillach’s trial. But Alice
Kaplan and I became good friends and I am very grateful to her, because she
translated three of my books into English.
And now, I must confess to you publicly that I have some responsibility for
the existence of The Interpreter.
I had a friend, the great French writer Louis Guilloux, who was himself a
close friend of André Gide, André Malraux, and Albert Camus. Guilloux, who
was a Breton, spent the war in Saint-Brieuc. And there, at the time of the
liberation of Britanny, he was hired by the American Army 8th Corps Judge
Advocate Division, located in Morlaix, as an interpreter in their
court-martial. His job was to translate into English the testimony of French
witnesses during the investigations and the trials. Louis Guilloux followed
this American court-martial from Morlaix to Saint-Quentin. He saw GIs judged
for crimes – including rapes and murder – against French citizens.
Imagine that little man, with a typical Breton face, his left hand always
clenching his pipe, and wearing, for the occasion, the uniform of an
That experience of his ended with a book, of course. A book entitled O.K.
Joe -- a novel, but a novel where he changed very little. That’s where my
responsibility begins. I gave O.K. Joe to Alice. She was so interested in it
that she translated that little book for The University of Chicago Press.
But this was not enough for her. She embarked upon a vast investigation of
U.S. Army Courts-Martial during the Second World War. I suppose she will
tell you, in a moment, how that research took her to the U.S. army archives
in College Park, Marlyand, to the families of condemned G.I.s in the Deep
South, to the villages of Brittany. She even found the secret cemetery, near
Soissons, where the American Army buried the soldiers it sentenced to death
and hanged. Perhaps she will tell you that the most difficult challenge of
all was getting permission to take a look at Guilloux’s manuscripts in the
municipal library of Saint-Brieuc.
In the end, Alice Kaplan wrote a book where each fact is true, but where the
tone is not that of a standard history. The Interpreter, which begins with
the execution of a black soldier at Plumaudan, in the Côtes du Nord, is a
narrative with a writing style that belongs to literature. With her, we
follow the American court martial as it moves across France. And always, in
a corner of the picture, is that puny little man, Louis Guilloux, the moral
conscience of the story.
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