Madame Fourcade’s Secret War

The cover shows a woman in 1940's-era clothing, carrying a package under her arm and walking down a deserted alley surrounded by stone walls.

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.

Adult nonfiction. Available in eaudio through CloudLibrary and in ebook and eaudio through Libby.

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.

20th Century Women

review by Eric L.

A group of people stand on a beach with the ocean behind them. 20th Century Women is in basic type above their heads. A gold banner at the top announces that the movie has been nominated for an Academy Award

The story centers around a middle-aged single mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening), raising a fifteen-year-old son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Dorothea owns a large old house (under slow renovation) wherein she rents rooms to Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and William (Billy Crudup). Abbie is a twenty-something, artistic, feminist photographer interested in the nascent punk rock scene; William is a forty-something hippie and handyman mechanic. The other character often in the house is Jamie’s seventeen-year-old female friend Julie (Elle Fanning), with whom he has a complicated relationship.

The thrust of the film is that the overly analytical Dorothea decides to enlist Abbie and Julie to help raise Jamie, in lieu of another man. The different ages and experiences of the characters in the film create the tension. People of different ages and backgrounds attempting to understand and relate to each other is always fraught with problems, irrespective of the setting. Different characters narrate the background of each character as they are introduced and understood, which is very well done with dialogue and images.

The washed out, sunny Southern California setting and the wardrobe selection create a strong visual aesthetic for the film. There are also wonderful scenes of a punk rock club and a seemingly out of place, psychedelic style to the car travel scenes.

I enjoyed the film very much, but perhaps that’s because it “reflected” aspects of me back. However, it’s my opinion that many people will feel the same about it. It’s “indie” and “artsy,” but has a mass appeal due to the characters deftly portrayed in the film. I would describe it as feel-good, but not overly sentimental or trite.

The film is rated R and does include some sexual content.

DVD Fiction. Available to view through Kanopy.

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.