Interview with Harriet Welty Rochefort, Author of Final Transgression

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Interview with Harriet Welty Rochefort, Author of Final Transgression
Final Transgression: One Woman’s Tragic Destiny in War-Torn France is a compelling story rich in human complexities. Harriet Welty Rochefort’s fourth book—she is author of the best-selling French Toast, French Fried, and Joie de Vivre—this is her first novel, which was inspired by the sparse available details of a true story. Although readers know from the subtitle that this story will end badly, the suspense about how, and why, is effectively sustained until its inexorable, tragic conclusion. The author recently took the time to answer Janet Hulstrand’s questions about her new book for Bonjour Paris. Janet Hulstrand: This story is set partly in Paris, and partly in Southwestern France, in 1944 toward the end of World War II, with flashbacks and flashforwards as well. Why did you choose to set the story where you did?  Harriet Welty Rochefort: I set the story in southwestern France because the events that inspired my story took place there in a little village in the Périgord. Readers who have visited the Périgord are familiar with its prehistoric caves and grottoes, its thousands of castles, and its renowned foie gras. When it comes to World War II history, though, they may not know that this largely rural area was a hotbed of fierce resistance activity that took place in the maquis, the name for the thick underbrush in the forests outside of small towns where freedom fighters—who were called maquisards—went into hiding to organise, and to train to fight the Germans. Janet: When I attended your Zoom book launch, I was really interested in what you said about wanting to write a story that was about how “ordinary” people in France survived, or experienced, or lived through, the war. What did you mean by that, and why did you want to do that? Harriet: I have read so many stories about World War II in which the hero or heroine is exceptional in some way; for example, either as a “bad” collaborator, or a “good” member of the Resistance. Most of the people in France were not that exceptional. They were simply concerned with getting from one day to the next, finding enough food for their families, and hoping not to get a bomb dropped on their homes. I thought it would be interesting to follow the trajectory of a woman whose only concern during the war was—ironic as it may seem, considering the times—to start a family. Janet: What moved you to write this story? It’s based on a true story from your husband’s family that you were curious about, but afraid to ask about because you felt like you’d wandered into a taboo subject, right? That intrigues me. Why was it taboo, and how did you finally end up deciding to write this story? Harriet: If a member of your family is accused of being a collaborationist, even if that has not been proved; and furthermore, if the person is killed, supposedly for that reason, it is a dolorous stain on those who remain. They never get over the person’s death, and they never get over the shame involved, even if it turns out that the motive for the assassination was the settling of a personal score, and not a proven case of collaboration. The story I tell was inspired by a true one in which this was the case; from what I turned up in my research, the person was not a collaborationist, but she was indeed regarded as a class enemy. That became clear when I went to the area and talked to people who had lived through that period, and knew the story. To give an idea of how long such taboos last, only two people in the village would talk to me about the events, and one of them swore me to silence. Fortunately, I was writing fiction: there were not enough details available to take any other path. Janet: What is one of the most interesting or surprising things you learned in doing the research for this book?
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Lead photo credit : Harriet Welty Rochefort, Author of Final Transgression. Photo: Harriet Welty Rochefort

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Janet Hulstrand is a freelance writer, editor and teacher who divides her time between France and the U.S. She is the author of "Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You," and she writes frequently on France for a variety of publications, including her blog, Writing from the Heart, Reading for the Road. She teaches “Paris: A Literary Adventure” for the education abroad program of Queens College of the City University of New York; classes at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington D.C.; and Writing from the Heart workshop/retreats in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in the Champagne region (l’Aube).

Comments

  • Alison Harris
    2020-08-14 11:55:49
    Alison Harris
    Great interview and I look forward to reading Final Transgression! Harriet's non-fiction books are wonderful and it will be a treat to discover her fiction.

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  • Richard
    2020-08-14 05:45:49
    Richard
    Could this novel be the inspiration substance for a WWII movie??

    REPLY

  • Sonja Oerlemans
    2020-08-14 05:09:26
    Sonja Oerlemans
    Great interview. Looking forwards to reading the book.

    REPLY

  • Lilianne Milgrom
    2020-08-13 05:53:50
    Lilianne Milgrom
    Bravo, Harriet! Wonderful interview to supplement your book. I hope all is going well for you and yes, one of these days, we will catch up in Paris. Bravo and congratulations again. Lilianne

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