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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Paper Bullets’

A French lesbian couple risks their lives to defy the Nazis.

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‘Paper Bullets’ author Jeffree Jackson (courtesy photo)

Twenty-somethings Lucy Schwob and her lover, Suzanne Malherbe, had never lived apart from their families in Nantes, France. Then one day in 1920, they were on their way to their new lives together in Paris, and life seemed exciting and fresh.

They’d known one another since they were children; both hailing from well-to-do families that supported their new endeavors in Paris. Lucy and Suzanne enjoyed Parisian cafe society and lives of social leisure, meeting famous writers and artists, and ultimately becoming celebrated as artists themselves. And Lucy began a lifetime of political activism—a passion that Suzanne didn’t necessarily share.

Paper Bullets © 2020, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $27.95. 336 pages.

By 1935, however, the political turmoil was inescapable and Lucy started thinking about a quieter life, partly because Paris was becoming intolerant of people like her and Suzanne. Suzanne wasn’t interested in leaving the city, but by 1937 she gave in and they moved to an estate on the British island of Jersey in the English Channel.

Not long after their arrival, World War II broke out and Jersey was all but abandoned by the British. Telephone lines were cut, soldiers were withdrawn, and by 1940 the German soldiers had arrived. Lucy wasn’t taking that lying down, however. She convinced Suzanne to join her in quiet resistance, and they spent long hours crafting demoralizing messages on small slips of paper, then furtively leaving them where German soldiers were sure to find them: in uniform pockets, on car seats and doorsteps, or inside books and magazines. 

And then one night during dinner, someone pounded on the door.

“It was the moment Lucy and Suzanne had been expecting every day for nearly four years,” Jackson writes.

As history books go, Paper Bullets is unique.

A small part of this book is biographical, though author Jeffrey H. Jackson seems a bit sedate about his subjects. His portrayal of Lucy Schwob is rather stonily detached, as if all we need are the barest facts (some of which are not particularly complimentary). Suzanne Malherbe is treated better, but still somewhat passively. 

Happily, it’s still exciting to discover how these two astoundingly courageous women fool the Nazis through their homegrown resistance. And once the jig is up, they further befuddle Hitler’s henchmen with the ultimate heel-digging. The final third of the book almost reads like a months-long Hogan’s Heroes episode, only this is no sitcom.

If the little-known history of LGBTQ resistance efforts during Hitler’s rise to power is what you crave, then Paper Bullets is a good pick.

Paper Bullets is now available on Amazon.com.

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Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terry Schlichenmeyer is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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