Tag Archives: officer and a spy

Kaitlyn Modzelewski’s Book Review


Vive le Scandale!

By Kaitlyn Modzelewski

The Dreyfus Affair is likely an event you vaguely recall from your high school history class, and other than being another term on your study sheet, it probably meant little to you. In fact, it is one of the greatest and most sinister follies in European history–one that nearly got swept under the bureaucratic rug, had it not been for the interjections of one Colonel Georges Picquart.

The newly-appointed head of the French Secret Service, Picquart starts his new career with a noticeable lack of enthusiasm. Spy work is dirty business; sifting through and reassembling private letters from the German embassy, writing weekly reports, and resealing confiscated letters are a few of his daily responsibilities. Those, and monitoring the progress and communications from Dreyfus’s solitary confinement on a small, French-owned island–a detail that sends Colonel Picquart down a dark, complex path of the sordid, underhanded work of the government. It begins as a minor investigation into a potentially traitorous letter from a lowly French Major Esterhazy to the German military; but as he wades deeper into the investigation, Picquart finds himself discovering the details of a government conspiracy to wrongfully accuse a man of treason–one Alfred Dreyfus. Picquart seizes the opportunity to bring the truth to light, but suffers the consequences of his conniving military higher-ups.

Robert Harris brings his highly qualified research skills to the art of historical fiction, and exacerbates the drama and disturbing tendencies of the French military in the late 19th century. The battle to clear an innocent Jewish man of his false charges, and uncover the greater conspiracy of the French Secret Service, unfolds masterfully in an engaging, and fast-paced manner. The lengths the French government will go to stifle justice is wrought upon the heads of Colonel Picquart and his counterpart, Alfred Dreyfus, as they are united under the injustice of their government. In the words of the Colonel himself: “There are occasions when losing is a victory, so long as there is a fight.”