David Ball’s Translation of ‘Diary of the Dark Years’ – [NYTimes.com]
If Jean Guéhenno had never existed, France would surely have had to invent him. A model writer and intellectual who neither collaborated nor accommodated the enemy, he refused to publish a single word as long as his country was under Nazi control. A leading essayist of the Popular Front, regularly skewered by the far right, he vowed, as of July 1940, to confine his thoughts and feelings to a private journal. It is a mystery why “Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944,” first published in 1947 and still a standard reference in France, is only now appearing in English in a fine translation by David Ball. Is there something about our own political climate that allows us finally to hear Guéhenno’s voice clearly?
The son of a poor shoemaker and a veteran of World War I, Guéhenno pronounced gay-AY-no rose against all odds to the pinnacle of academic respectability. He was 50 and a teacher when he started keeping his diary, and he brought to his reflections on the occupation qualities missing in the younger generation of Resistance intellectuals: midlife melancholy and a fierce skepticism that didn’t preclude taking sides.