Summary and book reviews of The Plateau by Maggie Paxson

The Plateau

by Maggie Paxson

The Plateau by Maggie Paxson X
The Plateau by Maggie Paxson
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Aug 2019, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

During World War II, French villagers offered safe harbor to countless strangers - mostly children - as they fled for their lives. The same place offers refuge to migrants today. Why?

In a remote pocket of Nazi-held France, ordinary people risked their lives to rescue many hundreds of strangers, mostly Jewish children. Was this a fluke of history, or something more? Anthropologist Maggie Paxson, certainties shaken by years of studying strife, arrives on the Plateau to explore this phenomenon: What are the traits that make a group choose selflessness?

In this beautiful, wind-blown place, Paxson discovers a tradition of offering refuge that dates back centuries. But it is the story of a distant relative that provides the beacon for which she has been searching. Restless and idealistic, Daniel Trocmé had found a life of meaning and purpose--or it found him--sheltering a group of children on the Plateau, until the Holocaust came for him, too. Paxson's journey into past and present turns up new answers, new questions, and a renewed faith in the possibilities for us all, in an age when global conflict has set millions adrift. Riveting, multilayered, and intensely personal, The Plateau is a deeply inspiring journey into the central conundrum of our time.

Chapter 1
Unanswered

I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me.

—Daniel 7:15

 

Let's just say that suddenly you are a social scientist and you want to study peace. That is, you want to understand what makes for a peaceful society. Let's say that, for years in your work in various parts of the world, you've been surrounded by evidence of violence and war. From individual people, you've heard about beatings and arrests and murders and rapes; you've heard about deportations and black-masked men demanding people's food or their lives. You've heard about family violence and village violence and state violence. You've heard these stories from old women with loose, liquid tears; from young men with arms full of prison tattoos.

There were men on horseback calling the boys to war, and long black cars arriving to steal people away in the dead of night; girls who'd wandered the landscape, insane after sexual violations; there was the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Paxson's personal reflections sometimes turn outward into sweeping and confusing assertions about humanity when it seems they might have more naturally continued inward into analysis of her own struggles. For example, she expresses concern about the "moral hazard" of identifying as a member of any group before identifying as human, stating that "the oneness of humanity is an absolute truth." It seems important to acknowledge, alongside this statement, that groups in power have often used people's religious and ethnic identities as reason to treat them inhumanely.   (Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

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Media Reviews

The Atlantic - Ann Hulbert
The result is a lyrical book, by turns ungainly and graceful, dark and uplifting—right in step with the struggle “to be good when it’s hard to be good.”

The Washington Post - Jane Eisner
After years of studying strife-torn communities, Paxson focused on Le Chambon because she yearned to study peace, to conduct “research that asked how, in hard times, regular decency can sometimes translate into extraordinary kindness.”

I’m not sure she answers her own question. Perhaps it is unanswerable.

But in the process of trying, Paxson introduces us to vivid characters, from the past and present, and uses their stories to probe the deepest recesses of the human condition with candor and true feeling.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
History, memoir, profound soul-searching about peace, and meditations on the moral limitations of observation (rather than action) are woven together with dreamlike sequences...The beautifully written, often heartrending narrative is as unforgettable as the region and individuals it brings to life.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
An elegant, intensive study that grapples with an enormous idea: how to be good.

Booklist (starred review)
Inspiring, riveting, and brilliantly researched and written, this is a book for our time by an author who has found her calling and risen with literary grace to a powerful challenge.

Author Blurb Larissa MacFarquhar, author of Strangers Drowning
After so much written about evil and pathology, here at last is a beautiful book that proves that selflessness is not a fairy tale. In describing an astonishing tradition of idealism and sacrifice, Maggie Paxson captures human goodness in all its complexity and ferocity.

Author Blurb Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here and An American Summer
Maggie Paxson takes us on this wondrous, probing journey in her search for the roots of kindness. How is it, she asks, that this one small place has so bravely stood up for strangers? The Plateau and the people you'll meet in its pages are just the right antidote for these unsettling times.

Author Blurb Sarah Wildman, author of Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind
In a world that feels increasingly dark, Paxson's remarkable search for parallels and paths to goodness between past and present, war and peace, is a heartbreaking and clear-eyed exploration of all that makes us human. She offers readers the key to survival: hope.

Author Blurb David Finkel, author of The Good Soldiers and Thank You for Your Service
Maggie Paxson went in search of human goodness and found a story that affected me in ways few books ever have. The Plateau is exquisite, excruciating, fearless -- a book not only for these times, when our need for understanding is so great, but for all times. A masterpiece.

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Righteous Among the Nations

Righteous Among the Nations medal design featuring a globe wrapped in rope with two hands pulling on itRighteous Among the Nations refers to non-Jewish people who have been honored by Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Memorial Center in Israel, for putting their lives at risk to help Jews at the time of the Holocaust. Yad Vashem set up a commission in 1963 to establish the criteria for the award and examine cases to determine recipients of the title. Since then, Yad Vashem has given the title of Righteous to over 27,000 individuals from over 50 countries. The Israeli government grants honorary citizenship to the Righteous, and organizations such as the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous offer assistance to surviving Righteous who experience economic hardship.

Yad Vashem names individuals as Righteous who meet four requirements:

  • They ...

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