A harrowing thriller in which a young woman’s “joy of sacrifice” turned to tragedy.

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CODE NAME MADELEINE

A SUFI SPY IN NAZI-OCCUPIED PARIS

A singular World War II tale highlights the bravery of a Sufi mystic’s daughter who sacrificed a peaceful life in France to become a secret agent for the British during the war.

Magida fashions a highly original biography of the short, brave life of Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944), who became a radio operator for the British in her late 20s and was dropped into France as a spy in the summer of 1943. It is a sad and harrowing story of a young woman with a steely will and strong sense of family honor who was eagerly incorporated into wartime service by the British Special Operations Executive, perhaps due to her mixed upbringing and perfect French—even though one official noted that she was “sensitive, somewhat dreamy.” Magida spends a substantial, fascinating portion of the narrative exploring Khan’s unusual upbringing in the suburbs of Paris, where her father, a renowned Indian-born Sufi mystic teacher and musician, taught his international pupils and disciples. Noor’s mother, Ora, was the sister of the notorious self-styled yogi Pierre Bernard. By the author’s account, Noor’s upbringing was spiritually oriented, literary, and sheltered, and the family was uprooted when her father died. Noor, who trained as a musician as well, was closest to her mother and younger brother, Vilayat. Joining the exodus to England when the Nazis invaded in June 1940, the siblings, nonviolent rather than pacifist, had to decide how best to aid the war effort. Noor enlisted and trained in wireless telegraphy. While courageous, “direct…forthright and no pushover,” and “used to being underestimated,” Noor (spy name Madeleine) unfortunately disregarded some important rules of the secret agent, such as not contacting anyone she had known before the war, and her movements caught the attention of the Gestapo. She was imprisoned and eventually executed at Dachau.

A harrowing thriller in which a young woman’s “joy of sacrifice” turned to tragedy. (37 illustrations)

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-63518-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Finely honed biographical intuition and a novelist’s sensibility make for a stylish, engrossing narrative.

THE MAN IN THE RED COAT

A fresh, urbane history of the dramatic and melodramatic belle epoque.

When Barnes (The Only Story, 2018, etc.), winner of the Man Booker Prize and many other literary awards, first saw John Singer Sargent’s striking portrait of Dr. Samuel Pozzi—handsome, “virile, yet slender,” dressed in a sumptuous scarlet coat—he was intrigued by a figure he had not yet encountered in his readings about 19th-century France. The wall label revealed that Pozzi was a gynecologist; a magazine article called him “not only the father of French gynecology, but also a confirmed sex addict who routinely attempted to seduce his female patients.” The paradox of healer and exploiter posed an alluring mystery that Barnes was eager to investigate. Pozzi, he discovered, succeeded in his amorous affairs as much as in his acclaimed career. “I have never met a man as seductive as Pozzi,” the arrogant Count Robert de Montesquiou recalled; Pozzi was a “man of rare good sense and rare good taste,” “filled with knowledge and purpose” as well as “grace and charm.” The author’s portrait, as admiring as Sargent’s, depicts a “hospitable, generous” man, “rich by marriage, clubbable, inquisitive, cultured and well travelled,” and brilliant. The cosmopolitan Pozzi, his supercilious friend Montesquiou, and “gentle, whimsical” Edmond de Polignac are central characters in Barnes’ irreverent, gossipy, sparkling history of the belle epoque, “a time of vast wealth for the wealthy, of social power for the aristocracy, of uncontrolled and intricate snobbery, of headlong colonial ambition, of artistic patronage, and of duels whose scale of violence often reflected personal irascibility more than offended honor.” Dueling, writes the author, “was not just the highest form of sport, it also required the highest form of manliness.” Barnes peoples his history with a spirited cast of characters, including Sargent and Whistler, Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt (who adored Pozzi), Henry James and Proust, Pozzi’s diarist daughter, Catherine, and unhappy wife, Therese, and scores more.

Finely honed biographical intuition and a novelist’s sensibility make for a stylish, engrossing narrative.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65877-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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