Historical novelist Smith (Scarred, 2016, etc.) relates the heroic efforts of one extraordinary woman during World War II.
In June 1940, 24-year-old Belgian Andrée “Deedee” de Jongh is working as a nurse’s aide in a hospital in occupied Brussels. Her patients are British soldiers, injured near Dunkirk. After they’re healed, the soldiers are collected by the Nazis and shipped to work camps in Germany. One day, Deedee performs an act of defiance, pouring a foul-smelling solution onto the bandages of a nearly healthy patient, which leads the Germans inspecting the ward to overlook her young charge. She soon devises a plan to rescue more British soldiers, including downed airmen, and get them back to England so that they may fight again. The intricate path to freedom includes safe houses from Belgium to southern France, employing master forgers to create appropriate documents, and a particular man, Florentino Goikoetxea, who, together with Deedee, guides the soldiers across the forbidding Pyrenees by foot. The British government agrees to provide financial support, giving Deedee the code name “Postwoman.” By the time Deedee is captured by the Gestapo in January 1943, she and other members of the resistance movement have saved hundreds of lives. This novel’s historical elements are verifiable: the real Deedee was, in fact, formally recognized by King George VI of England for her deeds. But Smith’s imagination supplies many of the secondary characters as well as the hint of romance between Deedee and one of her fliers. The prose often lacks emotional flourish, but its consistent reportorial tone keeps the story on track and maintains its quick pace. Indeed, some passages are succinctly chilling; for example, here’s Smith’s description of Deedee seeing herself in the mirror for the first time after a two-year imprisonment in the Ravensbruck work camp: “she was looking at a dirty, gray-haired, shriveled old hag....She only saw a cadaver.”
A worthy addition to WWII resistance literature.