Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 6, No. 9 July 14, 1943
At last the War is getting into the books. After three and a half years novels are now being turned out that reflect the temper of the people and our times. But the surprising thing is not that novels of the War have been so long in appearing but that they have appeared at all. And despite the complete blackout of cultural activity over the greater part of Europe and Eastern Asia, despite the unprecedented calls which the all-in nature of the War has made on the time of writers in the free world, novels have been written which not only take their place among the novels of the century but which summon the people to stouter and stouter blows against our bestial Fascist enemy. Ehrenburg's and Pozner's books are books of this kind.
Vladimir Pozner's "The Edge of the Sword" is not just another book about the fall of France. It is one of the great novels of our time. More, there are passages in it which are among the great things in Literature. Pozner takes Frenchmen, a bee keeper, a bargeman, a boxer, a metal-worker—privates in the Army—a Colonel, detective, women. They have one thing in common. They are all getting away from the Germans—they cross the Seine, the Loire. It is a picture of a nation breaking up. Pozner claims no inside dope and yet he gives all the dope. After reading "The Edge of the Sword" you know why, when Paris was evacuated, there were left behind the gas, the electricity and the police.
There is a wonderful scene where the remaining fifteen men of an infantry regiment which had entered Belgium five days before—to leave it three days later—come to a bridge over a river, pitch camp by it and—fish.
"It was pleasant to be there with one hand on the pole, the other resting in the cool grass, watching the bobbing of the float, reflecting harmless gestures which did not imply death—pleasant and restful. They were learning anew the natural use of their hands, of their eyes. And the bridge, standing there intact, was in itself agreeable."
Suddenly there comes up an old man, small and lean. He bellows out "Nation of fishermen! You coldblooded men! Nothing can stir you up, you pikes! The only thing you can get excited about is a stiff Pernod."
They shoo him away and he comes back later, wearing his Sunday best and rows of old ribbons that must have gone back to the war of 1870. His whole body trembled.
"'Do you know what France is, I wonder? The France of Jeanne d'Arc and the Commune!'
"Suddenly he burst out singing in a cracked voice:
'Contre Nous de la tyrannie,
L'etendard sanglant est leve!'
"'The banner of tyranny is waving,' he said, quivering with emotion. 'We've been sold out, betrayed, by the Chouans, by the Cagoulards. The bloody banner waves over France. You've forgotten the soldiers of Valmy!' he screamed in such a piercing voice that the fishermen jumped." 'What do you do at night? You sleep! I meditate. 1789,' he said, ecstatically, 'was a glorious year! And so was 1936. What have you left of all that, you freshwater fishermen? What have you left?'"
The book is filled with passages like this. Another is where the old Colonel and his chauffeur—the Communist "underground" worker—look [unclear: back] on Paris!
"'The two men looked in silence at the city where they had been born, and without knowing their eyes divided it between the two of them. For Colonel Carvin, the gilded glory of the dome of the invalides, the towers of Notre Dame, the gardens of Neuilly and Auteuil, the palaces of the Champs-Elysees, the Opera, and the Bourse, the Madeline and the Sacré-Cœur, which his equals had erected, frequented, admired, sung, delivered to the enemy; for Private Caillol the Bastille and the Republique, Belleville and Menilmontant, the canal Saint-Martin, the Faubourg Sainte-Antoine, the suburbs, the houses without elevators, the stairs without carpets, the basements without lights, the gutters where one plays, the shops where one works, the corners behind doorways where one makes love, the benches where one sleeps; all the joys, all the hardships and the struggles, all the pent-up anger of his comrades, his contemporaries and their children, who had Paris to reconquer."
(Our copy courtesy of Modern Books)