The Valdenaires were the first ones to set eyes on him, Mister—the father and his son—it was the time of year when meadow saffron blooms! They were out gathering golden chanterelles when suddenly the son let out a yelp, surprised by what sounded like an animal having its throat cut. He closed his eyes and pointed at a dark and disturbing heap sprawled in a thicket of whitebeams, where the earth seemed a bit less muddy. The father started, ran over, large beads of sweat bathing his face, then quickly regained his composure. “Calm down, Etienne, it’s only some poor black man.” “A German spy, then!” “The Germans haven’t got any more Negroes, and that’s what started this war…. Come along, son!”
A now old lady, Germaine, tells the story of the african troops who fought in the second world war for France through the story of one such, Addi Bâ who, after having been abandoned as France signed the armistice and escaping from a German camp was discovered by Étienne in a thicket of white-beams in a small village in the Lorraine, as described in the opening quote. We learn of the difficult cohabitation of the locals with the Germans who take nearly all of their produce leaving them hungry, and their reaction as hinted at in the following quote which refers to the saint Bartholomew pig feast, a reference to the slaughter of the saint Bartholomew, a famous massacre of Protestants in Paris in 1572, meaning of course here that they slaughtered all of the pigs to prevent the Germans getting them:
As for young Etienne, I might have seen him once or twice trotting around with a bunch of other kids who would pass through here heading up to the hilltops to gather chestnuts. I wouldn’t really meet him until the Saint Bartholomew Pig Feast.***
Slowly Addi gets to know everyone in the villages and local countrside, before becoming a key element in looking after and training the young men in the “maquis” and then eventually being betrayed to the Germans, by who? we never find out, too many possibilities:
It reminded us of the time he fell from his bike, sir, because he was near death and everyone in Romaincourt was wathching, inspite of the dogs, inspite of the hostility of the Jerrys who were striking out with their rifle butts and jabbering on, excitedly as we’d never seen before: –Der schwarze Terrorist! Der schwarze Terrorist! The black terrorist! The black terrorist!***
This was a interesting book treating a major, and forgotten subject of what happened to the colonial troops “les tirailleurs sénégalais” at the armistice, here Addi Bâ who was recognised only in 2003 with the “médaille de la résistance”.
First Published in french as “Le terroriste noir” in 2012, by Le Seuil *** my translation
Translated into English by C. Dickson and published in 2017 as “The black Terrorist” by Diasporic Africa Press
The quote as read in french before translation
Cela nous rappelait la fois où il était tombé du vélo,monsieur, puisqu’il était au bord de la mort et que tout Romaincourt assistait à la scène, malgré les chiens, malgré l’animosité des Boches qui distribuaient des coups de crosse et hachepaillaient, excités comme on ne les avait jamais vus:
–Der schwarze Terrorist! Der schwarze Terrorist! Le terrorisre noir! Le terrorisre noir!