Romain Slocombe (Paris, 1953) is an experienced and well-known French writer, especially in the detective novel genre. This versatile artist, who also produces comics and illustration books, More than 25 novels. He has established himself as one of the authors respected by critics and well-reviewed by booksellers. His series about Inspector Sadorski has sold more than 120,000 copies in France; here six volumes have already been sold and the author is already preparing the seventh volume. novel ‘Inspector Sadorski’s yellow star The second of the successful series has recently reached bookstores in Spain from the Malpaso publishing house. In an interview with El Periódico de Catalunya of the Prensa Ibérica group, Slocombe talks about himself and this literary universe in which this despicable police officer plays the leading role.
How would you describe Sadorski, the protagonist of your detective novel series? France Occupied by the Nazis?
Sadorski is truly a son of a bitch. His mission is to lead an anti-Semitic police squad and arrest French Jews. He believes in the establishment and Marshal Pétain, and considers the Resistance militants to be terrorists. He’s a very hostile character, but he’s not a monster either.
Despite everything, what makes him human?
They have very human reactions. In ‘Inspector Sadorski’s Yellow Star’, he is in love with a 15-year-old young man. Even though he wants to make love to her, he also wants to protect her. He realizes the suffering of the Jews throughout the novel. And she perceives this through women’s experience; He is outraged that the weakest are the first victims. In reality, the most dangerous crime is bureaucratic murder. The decisions made by hierarchical rulers and ordinary people are eventually implemented.
The most dangerous crime is bureaucratic murder
You’ve decided to place your hero on the side of the executioners instead of the good guys. Because?
Because I think it is more original and the occupation period is much better understood in terms of executioners. His perspective shows us the wheels of that society and that the Jews were the real victims of the system that the Germans demanded but the French implemented with a certain satisfaction. I wanted to put the reader behind a right-wing man whose views aligned with people of the time. They did not know that concentration camps were actually extermination camps. When they saw Jews being taken away by bus or train, their perception was not much different from the perception we have today when security forces break up gypsy or Afghan refugee camps. I wanted to show the common points that exist with our age.
The occupation was not just a sad and gloomy period, unlike the clichés and depictions in the movies. People had so much fun
What are the common points between the Nazi Occupation period and today?
One aspect that today’s France shares with that of the 1930s/40s is immigration. After the First World War, there were many waves of immigrants. First Italians fleeing Mussolini’s dictatorship, then Germans, including many Jews, fleeing Nazism. There are also many immigrants from Eastern European countries such as Poland and Romania. France, a rich country, faced mass immigration, which caused problems in business. Many French people complained that foreigners were taking their jobs. There was a xenophobic reaction similar to what is happening today.
Apart from the similarities with today, what interests you about the Second World War years?
I was born after the war, but my family lived through that period and always talked to me a lot about it. But they weren’t in Paris during the conflict, and I was interested in discovering what the French capital was like during the Occupation. Contrary to clichés and depictions in movies, it was not just a sad and gloomy period. Although there was a shortage of gasoline and many houses had no heat, the citizens had a lot of fun. Hitler turned Paris into a sort of holiday destination for German soldiers. There were many musical performances, the cinema and French fashion of those years were exciting. Moreover, moral values have been reversed. On the one hand, there was rationing in food stores. On the other hand, there was a parallel market and businessmen, those with money, became very rich.
‘Inspector Sadorski’s Yellow Star’ takes place between the spring and summer of 1942, when the Vel d’Hiv raid took place. What was the significance of that event?
We now interpret that period with our contemporary perspective on what happened in the Holocaust. But the concept of genocide did not exist at that time, and many French people were unaware of the persecution of the Jews. But the summer of 1942 was a shock for the residents of Paris. With the Vel d’Hiv raid, they were shocked to see French police taking Jewish children, women and the elderly from their homes and putting them on buses and trains. All this changed Parisians’ image of the Nazis. The attacks of the Communist Resistance began to increase gradually. Later the French realized that the Occupation was no fun and by June 1940 the war was not over.
Literary morality lies in originality. Showing episodes like the Vel d’Hiv raid already makes me a determined writer
Despite its shock at the time, the Vel d’Hiv raid remained a taboo subject in post-war France for decades.
Yes, this event disappeared from the official story in the first decades of the post-War period. Both General Charles de Gaulle and the communists created the myth that 90% of the French resisted the Nazis and that those who collaborated were only a minority who were suppressed in the aftermath of the conflict. During my childhood, this vision was prevalent in the films released in the 1950s and 1960s. However, this beautiful image gradually began to crack with films such as ‘Night and Fog’ by Alain Resnais or ‘Pity and Sorrow’ by Marcel Ophüls, which was banned from being broadcast on French public television for decades. With these artistic productions that caused great controversy, we went from one extreme to the other: from the myth of the Resistance to the shameful vision of the Occupation.
What kind of contributions does the detective novel contribute to the narrative of that period?
With this series of novels, I wanted to draw a portrait of French society during the Occupation period. The figure of the police officer seemed ideal to me for this. He has a badge and can go anywhere. Because he is armed, he has a coercive power over people. I’m a realist writer, and the crime genre has always seemed like a reliable way to see the world. Moreover, the period of the Nazi Occupation of France is suitable to be told in detective novels. Even the literary novels of Patrick Modiano, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, attracted attention with their gloomy tones because they reflected the atmosphere of that period.
The most dangerous people are those who lack the ability to look at things from different perspectives. I’m much more interested in Manichaeism than relativism.
Does making a literary series about an anti-Semitic and conniving police inspector impose a moral responsibility on the author?
Like Simenon, I do not judge my characters. I tell you what they do and what they think. I think writers shouldn’t get too involved on a political level, especially if they don’t want to delve into propaganda mechanisms. I think the author’s morality is based on the fact that he should show real facts and not deceive or distort the truth to benefit his ideals. Literary morality lies in originality. Showing episodes such as the Vel d’Hiv raid already makes me a committed writer and serves to excite the reader. No need to add theatricalization or misery.
But isn’t there a risk of falling into extreme moral relativism in describing Nazi collaborators with moral ambiguity? I ask you this question considering all the controversy that arose in Julie Héraclès’s novel about the shaving of Chartres, whose hair Robert Capa photographed and whose hair was cut off in retaliation for his collaboration with Nazism.
I think it’s always better to put yourself in other people’s heads and try to understand what motivates them. People often believe that they made the right decision and acted in the best way possible. The German SS soldiers who executed Jews in Ukraine were fanatics, but basically normal people. They killed Jews not because of persecution, but because they were told that Jews were harmful. They considered doing these as a public health operation. It’s like they’re cleaning a property with pesticides. The most dangerous people are those who lack the ability to look at things from different perspectives. I’m much more interested in Manichaeism than relativism.
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