Review by Julie F.
Imagine running the largest spy organization in Vichy France – setting up safe houses and networks, negotiating the tensions between de Gaulle’s Free French and the anti-Gaullist General Giraud, and helping to spirit spies and messengers from France to England in the dead of night on dangerous Lysander plane trips. Never staying in one “safe” location for too long; never knowing who has your back or who might stab you in the back.
Now imagine doing all of that as a woman, a mother of two young children and an infant, in a society where, as author Lynne Olson describes it, “Men fought, and women stayed home” (525). Marie-Madeleine Fourcade resisted both the German occupation and the gendered expectations of a military and espionage apparatus designed for and perpetuated by men. When the life of a spy in occupied France was reputed to be six months at the most, her success is a credit to her resourcefulness, daring, and people skills. The colleagues she trusted and led knew her worth. In the words of Léon Faye, her dependable lieutenant and the father of her youngest child, “A woman…But not just any woman! She’s an indisputable and undisputed leader. Even the English have accepted her” (201).
Readers who enjoy tales of espionage will be amazed that Marie-Madeleine’s story is real and not more widely known. The scenes depicting her captures and escapes, and those of her Resistance colleagues, are riveting – sometimes by simply talking her way out of the hands of the Gestapo, or waiting until their backs were turned to climb out of a window and make a run for it. Not all went according to plan; she lost friends and companions, and their stories, and her anxiety for their safety and grief over their losses, are powerfully depicted. Her devotion to a cause greater than herself and her family is heroic – even after the war, when she advocated for remembrance ceremonies, official honors, government pensions, and medical care for Alliance agents, as well as benefits for the families of those the German executed. Read this fascinating account of her dedication and defiance of societal norms, and be riveted by her exploits and those of her spy network.
Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch, where she facilitates two book discussion groups – Spies, Lies, and Alibis and Bas Bleu.