USA, listener since 2005
Tales of strength, disaster, delight, and integrity in war time Poland are spun through the lives of the family who inhabited the "ark" of the Warsaw zoo. Beautifully read and not to be missed.
I read this book as a pairing with another book, The Paris Architect--a work of historic fiction. This book, A Good Place to Hide is a non-fiction work under the heading of European History. Both books focus on the same time period--France in WWII after the Nazi invasion during the Vichy regime. Both books deal with hiding but in very different ways. In The Paris Architect, the hiding involves both helping individuals and cloaking deep changes in the main character Lucien. In A Good Place to Hide it is a massive "hidden in plain sight" experience involving villages, churches, Protestant pastors, Catholic clergy, the Boy Scouts, American Quakers and the commune of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon. Each book was extremely powerful and profound in its own way.
In many ways The Paris Architect fleshed out the shades of grey in all the characters. Showing flawed people, German and French alike, with both good and bad aspects of their thinking and belief systems. Somehow for me this shaded depth made the Nazis and the Vichy regime stand out so clearly as evil and terrifying--something that other books had failed to do with such clarity. The author artfully showed Lucien growing in empathy, strength and the ability to see beyond himself. The narration was excellent.
A Good Place To Hide starts from a different place entirely. The people that were able to hide the 3500 Jews and others at risk were already strong and powerful pacifists ready to give their lives for their beliefs. This high remote French plateau of Huguenots, long schooled in the experience of persecution, stepped up and quietly did what they needed to do to help others. I loved hearing about the community, the no nonsense approach and the small ways they all tried to live with joy through such a troubled time. To me a well told story of bravery and belief.
The most fascinating thing about reading these books as a pair was the difference between fiction and non-fiction and each genres ability to form a solid but different connection with the reader. In fiction, the story can be manipulated for greatest impact quickly. Much can be implied subtly without needing to stress about keeping the minute facts straight. In non-fiction, the reader needs patience to learn who each complex person was, their individual history, the dates, the laws and the odd realities of the time. A Good Place to Hide was a complicated book but painted a full picture of a terrible time in WWII France.
I can't choose a favorite. I loved them both. Highly recommended if you want to learn more about France in WWII and a group of people who made a difference when others looked away.