Interviews October 2006

Sorrow Without Pity

Carmen Callil discusses Bad Faith, her unflinching portrait of a fascist Frenchman.

In 1978, at the age of 81, Darquier was openly living in Spain—he was even listed in the Madrid phone book. He was interviewed by a reporter for the French magazine L'Express, which you quote from, where he denied the Holocaust and that he was responsible for any crimes, attributing it all to Jewish propaganda. Do you think he believed what he was saying, or that he was rationalizing away his crimes—or that he didn’t believe what he did was monstrous?

I don't think there's any way to convey in my book how much Louis and his wife lied. These people lived in another world of fantasy where their own words were true. I think at the time of the interview, he was very angry because Franco had just died. Within twelve months, Juan Carlos brought in everything Darquier most hated in the government. There was democracy, a parliament, and even the communist party.

Have readers responded to the book as you expected?

I found Darquier funnier than most people have. But I think that the circumstances are so black that people can't see the hilarity of such a character. I'm afraid he and Myrtle made me laugh quite often. The black humor of it, I notice people don't react to that very much.

What about from those connected to Louis and Myrtle?

Myrtle's family is not pleased. They were the worst of all. I was on an Australian television program with Myrtle's remaining sister and she still maintains that Louis was a wonderful gentleman and Myrtle an elegant lady who played piano. Myrtle's nephews, they all understand the truth of it. But the one sister said I told lies from beginning to end.

How did you react to that?

On TV, I said I was flabbergasted. I can quite see that you want to think your sister and brother-in-law are excellent people, but the stories of what happened to these deported people have been available for people to read for over fifty years, in the French assessments of deaths in concentration camps. And anybody could go to a library for the last two decades and read about Louis Darquier. Admittedly in a minor key, but he was still the same man that married her sister.

You mention right in the prologue how your childhood was your "purgatory," and how at the age of 21, you began seeing a psychotherapist, Anne Darquier, because you had attempted suicide. What compelled you to make such a personal admission in the book, and on page one at that?

Because one of the themes of the books is children. I felt connected to those Jewish children. I always understood how they felt. But that's a longer story. The point is that one of the themes of the book is powerlessness. I could have written about a thousand different deportations and experiences of French Jews on their way to Auschwitz, but I wanted to write about the children because they expressed for me a powerlessness that I felt in my own childhood.

It certainly marks a reader to learn right at the outset that the writer attempted suicide, to see that kind of honesty and candor on the part of the person who is about to share with us another's history. Considering your relationship to Anne and what happened in her life and how it ended, I was wondering what the process was like as you decided what to reveal about your own life.

That was the way the book began. I never changed that first page. I don't think I could have written about her otherwise, because that was the truth, and one of the things I was trying to do was write the truth.

 How much of your desire to write the book was based on Anne and whatever her lineage may have been, and how much was the specific fact that it was Louis Darquier? In other words, if Anne's father had been someone else, would you have written that book?

No way. Anne stands for the powerless. Those children on the trains. No food, no water, nobody to speak to. She stands for them and they stand for her. I can't really explain it. You see it like that and you write it like that.

In the last two paragraphs of the postscript, you write that people have asked you how you could stand to write about such horrible things, and you draw a connection between the Jews of France and the Jews of Israel and the terror that the former experienced and what the latter is passing onto the Palestinian people. Why was it so important to you that that message serve as the final words of the book?

It's the children again. During the years I was writing the book, the Intifada was going on. You see these kids throwing stones and children being killed all the time. And it was also my disappointment in Israel. I can't believe they could have suffered so much and not understand. I want them to see that if you pass on pain and suffering, that will be your reward, and I think that's what Israel has done to the Palestinians of the next generation.

You mentioned that the manuscript started out much longer than the 600-page version that ended up being published. How long was it originally?

Double. I knew a lot more about the 1930s than I put in the book. French fascists fascinate me.

Are you working on another book now?

No. I don't think the world needs another book from me. Now there's a publisher speaking.

Presented by

Grant Rosenberg lives in Paris where he writes for TIME and other publications.

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