L AFAYETTE — This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Allied D-Day invasion of the French Normandy beaches in World War II, and an author and filmmaker are touring south Louisiana to commemorate the battle that turned the tide and began the end to the war.
Novelist Dennis Ward, author of the historical novel “Mademoiselle Gigi,” and filmmaker Bonnie Friedman, creator of the documentary “Operation Sussex,” will discuss both at 3 p.m. Saturday at Cité des Arts Theater, 109 Vine St. in downtown Lafayette.
Ward will discuss the novel he based on Gisèle “Gigi” Carriton’s war years and Friedman will screen her film on the secret Allied spy mission preceding D-Day.
Ward’s novel recounts the life of Carriton, a young Jewish girl in Paris who struggles to survive the Nazi occupation of France, watching her grandfather be taken by the Nazis and at one time hiding in a potting shed in Lyon. In the book, Carriton meets Gerald Bertrand, an American soldier from Opelousas who served at Utah beach in the D-Day invasion. The two marry and Carriton moves to Acadiana, where she runs the first gay cabaret nightclub in Lafayette in the 1960s-1970s.
The novel follows Carriton during the war years, Ward saidd, including meeting Bertrand outside a movie theater, amazed at how an American speaks perfect French, and being the youngest war bride on the ship to America. “Mademoiselle Gigi” will be followed by a sequel novel depicting her life in America, Ward said.
Ward knew Carriton and based the fictional account on interviews with her before her death in 2008.
“I try to give the history of Gigi’s experience during the war,” Ward said.
Friedman’s documentary explains Operation Sussex, a plan by the Allies to infiltrate the Nazis with a spy mission involving 120 French citizens. The volunteers were parachuted into occupied France to spy on the Germans and report back to the Allies in preparation for the D-Day invasion, Friedman said.
“They were dropped two at a time in occupied France,” Friedman explained. “The average age was 22. They were young people who were patriotic and didn’t like being occupied and wanted to do something about it.”
It took Friedman 13 years to make the film, working as financing became available. She taped the subjects in 2000 on location in England and France.
“There were 14 survivors left at the time of filming,” Friedman said, adding that seven were able to appear in the film. “Now we’re down to just one survivor of that mission.”
More events are planned at 11 a.m. July 19 at Asbury Methodist in Lafayette and this fall at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge.
For more information, contact Ward at (337) 453-0726 or email ZydecoDen@bellsouth.net.