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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

July 10, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

THE NORMANDY DIARY OF MARIE-LOUISE OSMONT: 1940-1944 introduction by John Keegan (Random House: $17; 118 pp.) This is a brave woman, intrepid. Between August 1940 and August 1944, her home, Chateau Periers, only three miles from Sword Beach, the center of the D-Day invasion front, was requisitioned, first by the Germans from the 716th Infantry Division, and then by the British from the 3rd Infantry Division. She found the Germans tired, serious, melancholic and very decent. She found the British, for the most part, boisterous, imperious and inconsiderate. The Germans bring two things that offend Madame Osmont's sensibilities: "kitchen girls," and " 'that thing'--a framed picture on the second floor-a life-size Hitler!!! Horrors!" The British, unfortunately, steal--everything from knives to lipstick. At age 50, Madame Osmont does not complain, expresses her fear in only the most straightforward, practical way and is, at worst, discouraged, particularly the day after landing (June 7): "Suddenly everything's erupting, everything's falling around me, I feel a painful blow to the small of my back. I see balls of fire a few meters in front of me. I raise my head instinctively and catch sight of an airplane falling in flames. . . . I try to calm myself. Blood is running down my face. . . . I am horribly sad." Days later, Osmont has a friend remove the shell fragments from her spine: "Oof! . . . I'm delighted to be rid of it." She marvels how, weeks before, life had seemed so different, with German soldiers sunbathing on the lawn. She bicycles, despite the warnings of the authorities, into the completely shattered nearby town of Caen. In one of the book's photographs she is cradling a very hefty goose, in another she is wearing a fashionable hat and looking demurely and defiantly at the camera. "Men are capable of anything," she writes, half in awe and half in disgust, "but alas, only to destroy!"

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