French writer who scandalised the US

Sat, Sep 29, 2012, 01:00

TERESKA TORRES:TERESKA TORRES, a convent-educated French writer who quite by accident wrote America's first lesbian pulp novel, has died at her home in Paris. She was 92.

Although she wrote more than a dozen novels and several memoirs, Torres remained inadvertently best known for Women's Barracks published in the United States in 1950 as a paperback original.

The book is a fictionalised account of the author's wartime service in London with the women's division of the Free French forces. Although its sexual scenes appear tame in the 21st century, the author's forthright depiction of the liaisons in her unit scandalised mid-century America.

Torres's personal narrative, however, was far more dramatic than anything in fiction. She was born Tereska Szwarc in Paris in September 1920. Her father, Marek, a prominent painter and sculptor, and her mother, Guina Pinkus, a novelist and poet, were Jews from Poland. Before her birth, they had settled in France, and, in secret, converted to Roman Catholicism. When Torres was 13, as she recounts in a memoir, The Converts (1970), news of her parents' conversion was reported in the world Jewish press, alienating their relatives in Poland. But though the family practised Catholicism openly from then on, they knew it would not be enough to save them against the Nazis.

They fled to Portugal and on to London, where Torres enlisted in Gen Charles de Gaulle's Free French forces. In London, she fell in love with Georges Torres. A French Jew also serving with the Free French, he was the stepson of the former French prime minister Leon Blum. They married in 1944; Georges Torres was killed in action in France months later.

In 1948, Torres married Levin, a friend of her parents. He encouraged her to turn her wartime diary into a novel and arranged for it to be published by Gold Medal. Levin, also a writer, died in 1981.

Tereska Torres is survived by her daughter Dominique; two sons, Gabriel and Mikael, from her marriage to Levin; a stepson, Eli Levin; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Tereska Torres: born September 3rd, 1920; died September 20th, 2012