When Paris Was Dark: A Boy’s Journey to Survive Nazi Occupied Paris
Middle River Publishing (2020)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (05/2021)
Y.M. Masson’s “When Paris Was Dark: A Boy’s Journey to Survive Nazi Occupied Paris” is about a little French boy named Alain. Alain is just five-years-old in the opening of the book when he and his mother are strafed by a German plane during an air raid. From that point forward, it seems as if little Alain’s life is never the same. Faced with the horrors of war and the reality of death, Alain must fight to maintain hope as the life he is used to drastically changes. He will experience sleepless nights in dark air raid shelters. He will feel hunger when rationing goes to the extreme. He will even watch German soldiers drag two of his classmates away for the mere crime of being Jews. Forced to endure hardships that even most adults struggle to comprehend, little Alain must persevere and not give up the hope that one day – this dreaded war will end.
“When Paris Was Dark: A Boy’s Journey to Survive Nazi Occupied Paris” reads like part-memoir, part-historical narrative, and the author had a captivating way of interweaving the heavy tones of war into a child’s narration. Sometimes I did have a little trouble connecting with Alain, because I felt like the dialogue and his narrations seemed a little too mature for a little boy, at least in the beginning. The way the sentences were structured and some of the terms he used just seemed way too complex for a child of that age to be able to use. I understood that the author was trying to convey the despair and seriousness of the war, however, and that is hard to do sometimes with simple, child-friendly words. Afterall, war is not friendly to anyone no matter what their age.
“When Paris Was Dark: A Boy’s Journey to Survive Nazi Occupied Paris” is particularly poignant because it presents readers with a very realistic scenario of a young child living through a devastating and dangerous war. In essence, the further they read into the story, the more that this child’s innocence is taken away. For kids growing up during WWII, the growing up had to happen pretty fast. From the moment Alain is injured at the opening of the book and following his first experiences with seeing people violently killed in front of him, it is blatantly obvious how much these events transformed Alain from a typical five-year-old to a five-year-old with very adult fears and concerns. It really makes the reader stop and think about how the daily routine of this child must have been affected by the war.
Masson’s book fits in nicely to today’s climate because for kids like Alain during the war, changes happened gradually and drastically all at the same time. Normalcy was shattered, and suddenly everyday seemed like something to fear. I think that is something a lot of readers will be able to identify with today with regards to the Coronavirus pandemic and all the drastic changes we have all had to make to our daily lives and traditions. Just like Alain, our normalcy has also been shattered. “When Paris Was Dark: A Boy’s Journey to Survive Nazi Occupied Paris” is therefore a bulwark for those who, like little Alain, feel like they are losing hope with each passing day, but who refuse to accept that all is truly lost.