BookPage Top Pick in Nonfiction, December 2017
Step aside, James Bond. There’s a new sexy spy hero in town, and this one has the advantage of being real. His name is La Rochefoucauld, Robert de La Rochefoucauld, and his career as a résistant in Nazi-occupied France is the subject of Paul Kix’s The Saboteur: The Aristocrat Who Became France’s Most Daring Anti-Nazi Commando.
La Rochefoucauld, the carefree second son of one of France’s most distinguished families, was an unlikely hero. A bit of a ne’er-do-well, La Rochefoucauld was in no way the exemplary son that his beloved elder brother was. But La Rochefoucauld inherited the same sense of duty that had marked generations of his family, and at the age of 19, when France capitulated to Germany, he was determined to continue the fight against the Nazis.
After rigorous—and downright dangerous—training in England, La Rochefoucauld parachuted into France and began his spectacular career as a saboteur of Nazi operations. Captured, tortured and condemned to death by the Germans, La Rochefoucauld managed to escape from certain doom time and time again. If this were fiction, the plot would be fantastical; as a work of nonfiction, it is a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of the human spirit.
Kix’s sharp, well-paced writing is perfect for telling La Rochefoucauld’s story. But this is more than a gripping yarn of daring-do. La Rochefoucauld was a complex character, and Kix’s portrait is nuanced and moving. We are introduced to La Rochefoucauld when he is about to testify in the trial of an accused war criminal and collaborator—for the defense. Obviously, this is not your stereotypical resistance fighter, and Kix’s book poses the big questions: What is duty? What is courage? What is loyalty?
Like many veterans of his generation, La Rochefoucauld rarely spoke about his experiences to his family. We are fortunate to have Kix’s richly detailed book so we can remember the remarkable courage of an extraordinary man.