How one Frenchwoman’s spy network helped win the war against the Nazis.
Marie-Madeleine Fourcade (1909-1989) was raised in a well-to-do French family, but she was extremely independent for her time and refused to comply with the unstated rules of proper feminine behavior. “All her life,” writes Olson (Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War, 2017, etc.), “she rebelled against the norms of France’s deeply conservative, patriarchal society.” When she was approached to work with an espionage group to help the Allies before the onset of World War II, she accepted the position with little hesitation. Following this life-changing decision, she became the eventual leader of the group known as “Alliance,” a vast network of spies and radio operators who worked all over France. In a comprehensive, often exciting narrative, the author chronicles the actions of Fourcade and Alliance from 1936 to 1945. Her use of quotes and solid descriptive passages help re-create the tension and anxiety Fourcade and her friends felt as they risked everything to save France. Olson also effectively integrates a thorough history of the role of the Vichy government during this time as well as details on how MI6 and the Allies used the information Alliance collected to change the course of the war. She shares specifics on many of the agents under Fourcade’s control, their daring exploits and escapes, and what happened to those captured by the Germans. With the same attention to detail, Olson writes about Fourcade’s secret lover and her children. Although the text is overlong, the author brings into the spotlight a woman whose courage and endurance helped shape history yet whose full story had not yet been told. “For several decades following the war,” writes the author, “histories of the French resistance, which were written almost exclusively by men, largely ignored the contributions of women.” Olson rectifies that omission.
An engaging, informative addition to World War II history.