An officer and a spy

Managed to read An Officer and A Spy on Wednesday while flying to and from Auckland. It’s a novel by Robert Harris, based on the Dreyfus Affair.

Harris is an excellent novelist. Fatherland is the novel he is probably most well-known for. He has also written some very good historical fiction books around Pompeii and Cicero.

I had been generally aware of the Dreyfus Affair, but not to any great detail. Harris brings it to life, with his novel written from the point of view of Georges Picquart.

Two things struck me while reading the novel.

The first was how horrendous the gross miscarriage of justice was that saw Dreyfus convicted on next to no evidence, but even worse how the Army used forgeries and worse to persist in trying to prove he was a traitor, and the malice against those who produced evidence to the contrary. Even worse was that they then moved to protect the real traitor, just so they would not have to admit they were wrong.

The second is the extent of antisemitism in France 100 years ago. The Holocaust perpetuated by the Nazis did not come about in a vacuum. Antisemitic sentiments were strong in many parts of Europe, and people were quite happy to see an innocent patriotic solider rot in an island prison just because he was a Jew.

Anyway if you’re a student of history, I can recommend the book as an excellent read.

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