Marseille, 1940-43

Neal Ascherson

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.

‘Refugee Blues’, W.H. Auden

Marseille is an old-fashioned town. ‘You still have a queen,’ the lady checking museum tickets remarked. ‘So why don’t you cut her throat? Kings and queens are pointless, cost a fortune.’ Red Republicanism, 1793 brand, is not extinct here.

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[*] Margot Dembo’s new translation is published in August (NYRB, 280 pp., £9.99, 978 1 59017 625 1).