Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead

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Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead

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Category: History
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Liz Green
Reviewed by Liz Green
Summary: A comprehensive account of a set of villages in Vichy France that sheltered people to prevent their deportation to Nazi camps.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 384 Date: July 2015
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099554646

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Village of Secrets is an account of resistance (with a small 'r') and rescue in a series of small villages scattered across the Vivarais-Lignon plateau in Vichy France. Residents of these villages harboured a number of people, many of them children, many of them Jews, seeking to avoid deportation to concentration camps, at great personal risk. There have been other accounts of this chapter in French history and, of course, a great many books about Vichy France in general. However, Village of Secrets is, perhaps, the most detailed, much of it based on primary sources (interviews with both rescuers and the rescued, or their families), backed up by extensive documentary research.

There has been some controversy over previous accounts of events on the Vivarais-Lignon plateau during World War Two and indeed the accuracy of aspects of Village of Secrets has itself been challenged by several of the book's interviewees. Individual readers must form their own judgement on this. What I can say is that Caroline Moorehead's detailed bibliography and extensive research indicate a writer who has taken her job extremely seriously and who has tried to give credit to all participants. By trying to say it all, she has sought to redress the balance of previous accounts.

However, trying to say it all is part of her undoing. Although the book is very well written, it is simply crammed with information and reading it feels, at times, like wading through treacle. Every nugget of historical detail is included, making the book very heavy going indeed for a non-historian like me. It reads more like an academic text book to be studied than the sort of book you'd sit and read for an hour in the evening, but that may partly depend on your level of interest in, and knowledge of, the subject and your ability to assimilate large amounts of information within a very short space of time. Readability wasn't improved by the fact that the book seemed to jump about a bit, introducing one character and then going back to a different person referred to only tangentially 50 pages earlier. The book would have worked better for me had it focused on fewer characters, in more detail, but that wasn't the remit.

Village of Secrets is a salutary reminder of what it is like to be dispossessed and left me with troubling questions about my own integrity (what would I have done, had I been a villager?). And, despite the numbers of people rescued (this is a moot point: figures range from 800 to over 5000!), Caroline Moorehead rightly points out that post-war life for many of the survivors was traumatic indeed.

If you're looking for an anecdotal account of life on the plateau during World War Two then this may not be your best choice. If, however, you are more academically-minded, and especially if your Vichy history is up to scratch, you'd do well to look this one out.

For another book by the same author, set 150 years previously, try Dancing to the Precipice: Lucie De La Tour Du Pin and the French Revolution. Or have a look at Matthew Cobb's TheResistance: The French Fight Against the Nazis for an account of the Resistance (with a capital 'R') in France during the Second World War.

Buy Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead at

Buy Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead at


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