Ottaway (The Wind Beneath My Wings: John Hutchinson Concorde Pilot, 2013, etc.) returns to the familiar territory of British agents in World War II France.
Born in England but raised mostly in France, Eileen and Jacqueline Nearne dedicated themselves to the Allied war effort after Germany’s invasion forced them from their family home. With excellent language skills and knowledge of the country, first Jacqueline and then Eileen were trained by England’s Special Operations Executive to work with the Resistance in France. Jacqueline worked for more than a year as a courier before returning to England for rest and recuperation. Though she took new training courses in preparation for an expanded role in the Resistance, she was not sent back to France until the country was liberated. Shortly after Jacqueline’s departure, Eileen (referred to throughout the book by her nickname, Didi) was arrested. Though she managed to convince her interrogators that she wasn’t a spy, she was still imprisoned in Paris. Ten days before Allied troops reached the city, she was removed to Ravensbrück concentration camp. Though Didi eventually escaped her captors, she witnessed and was subjected to many horrors in her time at multiple camps. Though the sisters’ adventures aren’t exactly edge-of-the-seat suspense tales, they paint a realistic picture of life as a spy: lonely and filled with constant fear. Ottaway is a gifted storyteller, rarely losing momentum and skillfully weaving family strife, SOE bureaucratic problems and on-the-ground Resistance work into a cohesive narrative. She draws attention to issues within the SOE administration but also goes to great lengths to show how their agents fought tirelessly for the cause. The author does not provide much background on the war, leaving some readers out of the loop on certain points, but even this snag won’t lessen enjoyment of the book.
A compelling story sure to please history buffs and novices alike.