Monday, December 17, 2012

Betrayal, Guilt, and World War II: An interview with historical fiction author David Leroy

1) Tell me about your book

The Siren of Paris follows the mortal life of Marc Tolbert during World War II.  The story opens with him as a ghost of the war who is attempting to move past his mortal life into eternity.  His failure to deal with his own sense of survivor’s guilt, and the personal shame he has regarding a relationship with a woman, prevents him from moving on. Instead he must fall back into mortal time to review his life during the war. This review becomes the bulk of the story. 

2) Your protagonist is a French-born American art student. That's an interesting POV for a story of World War II. Why did you decide on that particular background and POV

Marc and Marie are based, in part, upon real people.  There were, in fact, many real people who became trapped by the war and were unable to leave France, hence living in very dangerous circumstances. Marc is a “Teddy boy,” which is a term for a child of an American veteran of World War I.  His dual citizenship is both a blessing and a curse to him throughout the story.  He decides to drop out of medicine and pursue art, primarily because his girlfriend, who wanted to be married to a rich doctor, has left him.  Marc’s experiences during the war will drive him, for the rest of his life, to give himself entirely to medicine, powered by the memory of being helpless to care for his friends as they died during the war.  

3) Please tell about the primary themes your book explores.

 The main theme is transcending guilt.  Marc is Catholic with a strong conscience. He feels guilt over the death of many of his friends who were betrayed during the war, because this betrayal came from his own girlfriend.  He blames himself for not seeing her as a collaborator until it was too late to do anything.  The second theme is the nature of freedom.  This is explored through Dora’s reactions to the war and Jacques’s experiences during the liberation of Buchenwald.  There are multiple lesser themes including courage in the face of danger, faith, hope, love and innocence.

4) Please tell us a bit about your historical research process.

I got a little carried away because I set out to write a realistic story.  The story follows real events instead of a fictionalized storyline of events. This required reading about 46 different books, along with several papers and documents, to put together all the various details. This has opened the door to some criticism regarding the book.  For instance, the scene of the traveling circus being raided on the Loire Valley seems to stretch credulity, but there was a circus on the run, remembered by many eyewitnesses.  The resistance group I choose is small, humble, and isolated from others with only few resources, because Dr. Jackson and his family are real. They are in contrast to the fictionalized Hollywood portrayal we have in our imaginations regarding Parisian resistance members.  The head of the Sons of Liberty, which is the largest of the French youth resistance movements, is blind. He is another unlikely actual historical figure of the war.   

5) You've said your book is a mix of a historical narrative and a spiritual journey inspired by The Egyptian Book of the Dead. World War II and the Book of the Dead are two things I don't normally associate with each other. Please tell us a bit more about that and how you came up with that connection to begin with.

My degree in philosophy and religion has a major influence upon how I approach telling a story.  If I had limited myself to only the clear historical facts, focusing upon certain events and people during the war from Marc’s emotional and mental point of view, it would be an interesting historical novel regarding a betrayal. 

However, by placing the historical events of the war into the context of Marc’s spiritual test, The Siren of Paris becomes allegorical historical fiction.  The Egyptian Book of the Dead is a mythical journey through an underworld of both demons and gods, testing the soul of Ani, until he reaches his place of final peace.  The match was perfect for the purpose of exploring guilt felt on a spiritual level.  Of course, I do not follow the same journey that Ani takes, because this is Marc’s journey and his tests are different.  The lucid dreams and hallucinations in the story serve as a way of guiding Marc in this journey that equates the war with hell.

Readers’ reactions to this allegory are mixed.  Some find it incredibly interesting, while this odd mixture of imagery does not impress others. I am actually surprised that I have not attracted more negative reviews, since some readers do not enjoy allegorical writing.   

6) World War II, being the greatest, most horrific war that humanity has even known and relatively recent has been rather thoroughly explored in fiction. What does your novel bring to the forefront that has perhaps been less explored well in the past?

Aside from the fact that The Siren of Paris is an allegorical approach to exploring World War II, the book brings several obscure events to light.  Very few people know the story of the RMS Lancastria, a British passenger liner put into service as an emergency troop ship, that took on 8000-9000 soldiers and civilian refugees only to be sunk, killing most in 20 minutes.  The British government, to this day, continues to passively deny this sinking, which is the worst maritime accident in British history. People are very familiar with the stories of Titanic and the Lusitania. However the Lancastria death toll, which is estimated to exceed both disasters combined, is unknown to most and has never appeared in a novel. Most war novels don’t dwell long on the “false war period” when the French and British engaged in a long period of denial of their circumstances.  This is reflected in the confirmation bias of Marc’s fellow trapped travelers. Plus, many of these historical figures, such as Joan Rodes, Jacques Lusseyran, Ambassador Bullitt, and Sylvia Beach, have never appeared in a fictional account before.   

A standard historical novel would explore these characters in depth. However, in the context of an allegorical novel, these characters play roles in the service of the larger spiritual journey of Marc’s soul.  The people are guides, gatekeepers, threshold guardians, teachers, and mentors to Marc as he travels through this dark underworld where he lost his own innocence to the horrors of war.

A strict historical novel would remove all allegorical elements, including any spiritual mysticism, lucid dreams, or symbols, as useless elements that obscure the historical story.  I choose to look at this historical story through the use of allegory, because frankly, I can’t expose my readers to enough bombings, starvation, terror, arrest, and death to help them experience World War II.  I do not have a romantic vision of this war, because I grew up around so many civilian survivors who were haunted by what they saw and experienced.     

7) Do you have any excerpts you'd like to share?

There are those who believe that faith, hope, and love are things we do, in order to lead blessed lives. They are like tricks that earn us a prize from God, such as an easy life. If we play the tricks just right, we will be blessed with love, find riches, and be successful.” Jacques remembered the precise morning the bill came due for his tricks on the Nazis when they came to arrest him. 

“It is not true. Faith, hope, and love are states of being, and when you are these states of being combined in one moment, you can pass any test that life may bring to you, even the test of when it is your time to stand for your own death.” 

 Jacques Lusseyran, 1967 at Marc’s grave in Saint Nazaire.  Chapter 45.

8) Please tell us about your other projects.

I am currently working on the first draft of a smaller book called The Flower of Chamula.  It explores the victory of living a life worthy of today, over death tomorrow, because of a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  It is set in the Chiapas Mountains of Mexico in the town of San Cristobel and the indigenous spiritual center of the town of Chamula.  I hope to release this work in 2013. 

Several readers of The Siren of Paris have asked about the fate of Marie after the war.  I plan to explore writing a follow up book that will explore her own betrayal, arrest, trial, and death, after the war, during the period known as the Purge.  I am not sure what I will be able to teach the reader about a narcissistic personality, but the Greeks did have a place for tragedy.  The natural title would be Death of a Siren, but I am leaning towards Death by Sun.   


Thanks, David.

About the Author: A native of California, David received a BA in Philosophy and Religion at Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego. After returning from a European arts study program, he became interested in the history behind the French Resistance during World War Two. Writing fiction has become his latest way to explore philosophical, moral and emotional issues of life. The Siren of Paris is his first novel. You can visit him at

You can purchase The Siren of Paris from Amazon -- -- for more information about his virtual book tour, please visit --

1 comment:

J.A. Beard said...

Sorry, just deleted by 100 comments by accident. :/