Little Boy Lost
by Marghanita Laski
Originally published in 1949 and first published by Persephone Books in 2001,
Little Boy Lost is the story of an English poet and intellectual, Hilary Wainwright, who is searching for his son in post-war France.
The child went missing after the Gestapo murdered his wife, Lisa, in Paris. Hilary had only seen him once at one day old in 1940. He believes that the child also perished until Pierre, a Resistance fighter, who knew Lisa and who urges him to search for the child, contacts him.
In 1945, three years after the child was lost, Hilary goes back to France to look for him. Lisa's last letter to him begged him to find and care for their son, ending with "Hilary I can endure everything if my baby is safe". Hilary's torment is unbearable and in his crippled emotional state he is ashamed to admit to himself that he hopes that the child has been adopted.
Nevertheless, he makes the trip and finds himself in an unrecognisable post-war France, which is, as he says, "enveloped in a miasma of corruption".
A boy is found, who may or may not be his son, in a Catholic orphanage. Hilary visits the boy, Jean, but having seen his baby only once at one day old, has no way of knowing if Jean is his. Nothing in this child bears any resemblance to him or Lisa. He continues to visit, appalled at the conditions in the institution, taking the child out for tea and buying him small gifts and eventually comes to his heart-rending decision.
This novel has a rawness about it that pervades the book. Written only four years after the end of the war, the reader gets the sense of a country coming to terms with its life under occupation and the shame of the collaborationist Vichy regime. But it is the human story, the rawness of emotion, which makes this a great book.