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Book of the week: The Order of the Day by Eric Vuillard

"A thoroughly gripping and mesmerising work of black comedy and political disaster. It seems designed single-mindedly to remind us that, as it says, 'Great catastrophes often creep up on us in tiny steps'." - Guardian

“Gripping…a tour de force…this unusual work…peel[s] away the veils of dissimulation, disguise and self-justification that conspire to make historical disasters appear as just the way things happen.” - Wall Street Journal

Named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Boston Globe, and Literary Hub, winner of the 2017 Prix Goncourt, The Order of the Day is a brilliant behind-the-scenes account of the political and personal manipulation and hubris that led to the annexation of Austria. It plunges the reader deep into the claustrophobic atmosphere of a series of meetings that would determine the fate of European Jews and of the war. When in 1933 the titans of German industry prepare to sell their soul to the Nazi regime in exchange for future economic growth, they do not realise that their actions will precipitate the 1938 Anschluss, described a few pages later. Far away from the conflict zone, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill invite the departing German ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop to a lavish luncheon, on the very day German troops were entering Austria. 

A cynical account of the blind acquiescence to an evil regime, The Order of the Day is also an exploration of the limits of human morality and ethical action. Through thorough research, Vuillard managed to perfectly render the obsidian atmosphere which must have pervaded this troubled era.

“[A] remarkable account…It captures the bizarre blend of wishful thinking, clownish self-importance, and cold calculation that characterized many of the Nazis’ powerful enablers.” - The New Yorker

The Order of the Day was translated by Mark Polizzotti, and it is published by Picador.


Éric Vuillard was born in 1968. Recognised for works such as La bataille d'Occident (Prix Littéraire Valery Larbaud), he has also directed two films, L'homme qui marche and Mateo Falcone. Critics have commented on the influence of the montage techniques on his writings. In The Order of the Day, he notes that "The films of that time have become our memories, as if through a horrible magic spell. The world war and its preamble are swept along in this endless movie, leaving us unable to distinguish between true and false. [...] History unspools before our eyes, like a film by Joseph Goebbels."

Mark Polizzotti has translated over fifty books from the French, including works by Gustave Flaubert, Marguerite Duras or Patrick Modiano. A Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, he was the recipient of a 2016 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature as the author of eleven books, including Revolution of the Mind: The Life of André Breton. He currently directs the publications programme at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 

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