Slightly out of focus, by Robert Capa

J’ai lu le livre dans sa version originale, en anglais. Il existe néanmoins en français (et en italien) sous le titre « Juste un peu flou / Slightly out of focus ».

Summary (as found on the book)

« In 1942, a dashing young man who liked nothing so much as a heated game of poker, a good bottle of scotch, and the company of a pretty girl hopped a merchant ship to England. He was Robert Capa, the brilliant and daring photojournalist, and Collier’s magazine had put him on assignment to photograph the war raging in Europe. »

 

Summary (as I would have written it)

This an autobiography with a twist, as you could expect from someone who created a whole identify for himself in order to succeed in the world.

Capa loves a good story and tends to put a romantic veil on his war years. But rather than diminishing the value of his tale, it only enhances it, and makes it more readable and more importantly more bearable.

The story covers the years 1942-1945 and almost all war fronts: North Africa, Italy, D-day and the Oder. In the middle of his war adventures, Capa tells of his love affair with his wartime girlfriend Pinky.

Although part of the story gets a novel-like treatment, Capa doesn’t shy from telling the truth about the war, from the teenage partisans killed in Italy, to the soldier killed in Leipzig just as he was being photographed, via the D-day landing.

This is a valuable testimony about World War Two, from the perspective of someone who wasn’t a soldier but wasn’t quite a neutral observer either.

 

Review

I really enjoyed reading it. Capa’s story is both funny and tragic. There is a lot of emotion in his writing, even when he exaggerates (the bit about the liberation of Paris is maybe a tad over-enthusiastic but is probably quite close to how he felt given the extraordinary circumstances: « his » city being liberated by « his » comrades in arms, the Spanish loyalists), which makes it easy to relate to. It also provides a view of WWII that is not often told. War photography really started in the 30s and Capa as one of the pioneer of the genre is probably the best-placed person to tell the story of WWII as seen by a photograph.

His recounting of the Italian campaign really shows how painfully slow and deadly it was, which is a story that isn’t told much outside Italy.

Of course, I was really looking forward to the D-day landing part, as I never quite understood how he could have had the nerves to follow the first wave on Omaha beach. Let’s just say that it did not disappoint and I found it one of the best part of the book and probably the most touching one.

The photos are obviously very good and impressive. I read it on a kobo but bought a paper version later, simply because Capa’s photos on a kobo just aren’t the same as on paper.

I would definitely recommend the book to anyone with an interest in Robert Capa and war photography (obviously) but also to anyone interested in history in general and WWII history in particular. And if you love Hemingway he gets a few mentions too.

 

 

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