Summary and Analysis
Eighteen-year-old Isabelle is expelled from a French girls’ school for talking back to her teachers. She is sent back to Paris to live with her father, Julien, the very person who sent her to the school to be rid of her. In Paris, ignored by Julien, Isabelle reveals to her friend Christophe that she wants to be a war hero.
Isabelle notices that the city is more chaotic than usual, and she and her father discover that Paris is about to be seized by the Germans. Julien declares that they need to leave the city. As German airplanes begin bombing, Julien and Isabelle hide in the basement of their apartment building.
As she argues with her teachers and with Christophe, Isabelle’s nature becomes evident. She is not interested in adhering to society’s expectations of women; she wants to be a part of the war effort, to do something bold and meaningful. She refuses to allow the things she is told about her gender to limit her.
Yet Isabelle also has a naïve view of war. When she learns that Paris is being seized by the Germans, she can’t believe it’s real. Julien, who experienced the horrors of WWI, tells her darkly, “The worst can always happen.” Later, in the cramped basement of their apartment building during the bombing, Julien instructs Isabelle to sleep, and she responds that sleeping would be impossible. Julien answers, “A lot of things are possible.” Julien’s experience of war leads him to expect the kinds of difficulties that Isabelle doesn’t yet know are feasible.