New Nonfiction: Priscilla – Nicholas Shakespeare

This impressive work by renowned biographer Nicholas Shakespeare turns the lens on his own family, unpacking a romantic family story about his aunt and uncovering a secret, more sordid and morally ambiguous truth.

The family story was that his glamorous aunt fought in the French resistance and was interned in a concentration camp. When the biographer inherits a trunk of Priscilla’s letters and memorabilia, the evidence points to a more complicated past—one that perhaps included collaboration. All in all, it’s an immersive read for fans of WWII and 20th century history as well as a portrait of a flawed woman trying to survive terrible times. The NYT has already reviewed the book in the daily paper and it’s scheduled for the NYTBR on 1/19/14. I’m expecting the same sort of raves the book received when it was published in England.

As Mr. Shakespeare does his research, the mystery of Priscilla begins to recede, and so does her glamour. She is revealed as possibly less worthy–but maybe more intriguing….Mr. Shakespeare compares her, sympathetically, to Anna Karenina, and she is indeed the inadvertent protagonist of a morality tale….Our hunger to know what she thought and felt is a tribute to just how much of her he has been able to put on the page.”
   — New York Times

“A wonderful book….I have not read a better portrait of the moral impossibility of that time and place for people, like Priscilla, who found themselves trapped in it.”
— Daily Telegraph

“Gripping…. Priscilla brilliantly exposes the tangled complexities behind that question so easily asked from the comfort of a peacetime armchair: ‘What would I have done?’”
— The Observer

“A tantalizingly original perspective of the Second World War….In his engaging detective story, as he pieces Priscilla’s war years together, Shakespeare shines a moving, intriguing light on the moral quandaries faces by ordinary citizens.”
— London Sunday Times, Best Book of the Year Citation

Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France (9780062297037) by Nicholas Shakespeare. $27.99 hardcover. 1/7/14 on sale.

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