The Interpreter

Publisher Free Press, September 2005

Award-winning and critically acclaimed author Alice Kaplan tells a war story unlike any other-a riveting look at American’s tragically failed attempt to uphold justice in liberated France at the end of World War II

As American forces liberated towns in Normandy and Brittany after four years of German occupation, General Patton was determined to prove that the new occupiers were nothing like the Nazis they replaced. He demanded rigorous courts martial for all American soldiers charged with crimes against local citizens. It was a noble idea-but when put into practice, it proved anything but: Though African Americans comprised just eight percent of American forces, fifty-five of the seventy troops executed for crimes like rape and murder were black. It was a tragic farce that put American racism into stark relief before a confused French public.

How could such good intentions have gone so awry? In answering this question, historian Alice Kaplan builds a searing work of novelistic nonfiction trough the lens of a Frenchman caught between two cultures. Louis Guilloux, one of France’s leading political novelists, served as an interpreter in several of the trials. Kaplan skillfully draws upon his observations and her own extensive research to paint a wrenching portrait of steamroller justice; of black men hanged in France long after such public executions were outlawed in the United States; and of a white man, considered a hero by many, who appeared to have gotten away with cold blooded murder. Blending vivid accounts of war, occupation, and courtroom drama, this look at a little-known civil rights tragedy is impossible to put down.

“Alice Kaplan’s superb work of investigative history is impressively researched and thoughtfully nuanced. The story she tells is as deeply moving and emotionally powerful as any nonfiction can be.”
— David Garrow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Bearing The Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

“The Interpreter digs under the usual heroes to reveal a U.S. Army out of control in wartime France. Its cast of doomed privates and aloof officers feels familiar-we see it today, in Iraq–but the setting is a new kind of World War II, in which the American liberation turns into a Jim Crow nightmare.”
— Edward Ball, National Book Award-winning author of Slaves In The Family.

For a month in the summer of 1944, military translator Louis Guilloux watched in horror as the American Army brought the cruelty of Jim Crow justice to his beloved France. Guilloux swore that he would bear witness to what he had seen. With unflinching honesty and vivid prose, Alice Kaplan honors the translator’s pledge. In this remarkable tale Kaplan has shed a brilliant light on the dark side of America’s Good War.
— Kevin Boyle, National Book Award-winning author of Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age

The Interpreter