A novel in a picture

The great Robert Capa took this photograph on August 23, 1944, titled “Listening to De Gaulle’s speech after the liberation of the city.” I keep it on my desk. The more you look, the more the image unfolds, could unfold to the 100,000 words of a typical novel. Here are my surmisings.

The man is the boy’s grandfather, the father perhaps dead or at least away. The boy isn’t small and the man not huge, so there’s heavy weight on his shoulders, borne willingly, not mentioned. The boy must see and hear De Gaulle, his future.

The man’s dress is old-style, country—the jacket, the collarless shirt, the hat, the moustache. But the boy’s modern dress, the new clothes and haircut all speak to some sacrifice, at least priorities. See the boy sitting straight and proud, hand on waist like a grownup, but what unself-conscious child-like tenderness and trust in the right hand cupped around the man’s face. He has grown up with this man, the foundation of his young life. And what perfect composition, how the both of the boy’s arms take our eye to the grandfather’s face.

Chartres was heavily bombed during World War II (the cathedral ordered bombed by the Allies, saved by an American officer who refused the order). The boy has seen more than any child should see, but the man has seen yet more. Perhaps he was in the Great War. I see the boy looking at De Gaulle, into the future, the grandfather’s gaze slightly away, perhaps into the past or reckoning the future’s cost. Note the bright, featureless sky, the light on the boy’s face, the delicate shading of the soft skin, and how darkness grows as the eye drops to the grandfather’s lined face, his dark jacket.

The woman to the right is perhaps the grandmother. She isn’t looking at De Gaulle and seems outside the . She has her own thoughts that darken her eyes and I can’t guess what they are. What do you think?




Pamela Schoenewaldt, historical novels of immigration and the search for self in new worlds: WHEN WE WERE STRANGERS, SWIMMING IN THE MOON, and UNDER THE SAME BLUE SKY (all HarperCollins).

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6 comments on “A novel in a picture
  1. Jamie says:

    Very moving, Pamela, and thank you for the journey your words just took me on. What a remarkable photograph. The light in the grandfather’s eyes says so much.


  2. Yes, I didn’t even mention that light. That’s great art, the more you look, the more you see.


    • Jane says:

      Yes. I also notice that the boy is sitting sideways on his grandfather’s shoulders, which you would think would be painful, but grandfather doesn’t seem bothered by this.


  3. Anonymous says:

    This is a wonderfully moving reading of this photo. I used to do something similar with high school students using Rockwell’s painting “The Problem We All Live With.”


  4. Anonymous says:

    great reading into people souls just looking at their photographs… only good writers can do it …


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Sunday, May 6, 2pm reading from latest work at Hexagon Brewing Company, Knoxville, TN.

Thursday, May 10, 6-8 pm presentation on research on the historical novel, Blount County Library, Maryville, TN.

When We Were Strangers, Italian translation, to be presented in Pescasseroli, Italy, August 2018.

Recent Review
“Absorbing and layered with rich historical details, in Under the Same Blue Sky, Schoenewaldt weaves a tender and at times, heartbreaking story about German-Americans during World War I. With remarkable compassion, the author skillfully portrays conflicted loyalties, the search for belonging, the cruelty of war, and the resilience of the human spirit.”—Ann Weisgarber, author of The Promise and The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

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