The story behind the book

Historically speaking, the kids are alright

David Wilson for the Boston Globe

In 2014’s National Book Award finalist “When Paris Went Dark,” author Ronald C. Rosbottom wrote about Paris under Nazi occupation. While researching that book, he said, he noticed the ages of some involved in the resistance. “I kept running into memoirs, stories, and references to young people,” he said. Then he came upon Jacques Lusseyran, blind since age 7, who by his teen years was the leader of a whole group of school-age resisters in Paris.

At first, Rosbottom thought he would center his next book on Lusseyran, but then, he said, “I began running into all these other kids. I really wanted to expand the book.” In the end, he wrote “Sudden Courage: Youth in France Confront the Germans, 1940-1945,” which chronicles a whole generation of youth, mostly ages 15 to 25, who made up the core of the early resistance.


He became fascinated with young people as political actors. “What is it about youths that gives them the energy, the clear-headedness, impatience with propaganda, their sense of justice? It’s really a great gift,” Rosbottom said. And it didn’t end after World War II. “How many young people are still going to the streets around the world, like in Hong Kong and Algiers and Istanbul and here? There is something encouraging about the optimism of young people — their optimism and their courage and their energy.”

Rosbottom, who teaches at Amherst, began his academic career in the study of literature. As a writer of history, he tends toward some of the tools of literature — character and narrative. He found both in the letters, diaries, and memoirs of the youth resisters. “Storytelling is essential to good history,” he said. “I’m a storyteller.”

Rosbottom will read at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Harvard Book Store.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.