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July 2016: Biography Memoir > Nancy Wake - by Peter FitzSimons (3 stars)

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message 1: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2637 comments Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, Nancy Wake gravitated to France as a young woman. There, she became a major player in the French Resistance during World War II. At the time the Germans invaded France, she was married to Henri Fiocca, a wealthy French businessman in Marseille. She used her society position and reputation as a cover for her work in the local escape network, organising for Allied servicemen to pass through a series of safehouses and be guided out of France over the Pyrenees. Her ability to maintain her cover for so long and disappear whenever the Germans thought they were getting close to identifying her led to her Gestapo nickname of "The White Mouse".

Eventually, though, the Gestapo were throwing so many resources at capturing her that Henri persuaded her to avoid the inevitable and use her own escape route to get to Britain. Once there, though, it was obvious that a quiet life was not for her while there was still a war to fight. She joined the British Special Operations Executive as an agent and parachuted back into France to join the Maquis. There, she liaised with London, organising parachute drops that supplied the Maquis with the arms and supplies to sabotage Nazi targets, training the Maquis fighters to use the weapons, and passing on information about priority targets. Never a person to stay out of the action, Nancy was often at the forefront of the sabotage and fighting efforts - she was one of the SOE's most successful agents.

It's obvious from this book that Nancy was a truly extraordinary woman: straight-talking, hard-drinking, a highly competent fighter, a leader, a person who got things done and who took no crap from anyone. She was also beautiful, and as one of her Maquis colleagues recalled, 'the most feminine woman [he] knew, until the fighting started ... then she was like five men.' She was justifiably and extensively honoured by Britain, France and the United States - though, bizarrely, never by her own country of Australia.

The book focuses on her wartime activities for obvious reasons, though it also describes her early life and briefly covers her post-war years. The author, Sydney journalist Peter FitzSimons, talked extensively with Nancy over the years before her death at the age of 98 in 2011.

While Nancy's story is amazing, and it was a treat to read about her life, the style of the book grated with me at times. It's a bit like a cross between a weekend entertainment section newspaper article and a "Boys Own" story. That has its own charm - the author knew Nancy so well and was able to show her in a fresh way - but there are too many jarring notes for real reading satisfaction. It should really be 3 and a half stars book but I can't quite bring myself to round it up.


message 2: by Denizen (new)

Denizen (den13) | 1138 comments Kate wrote: "Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, Nancy Wake gravitated to France as a young woman. There, she became a major player in the French Resistance during World War II. At the time the Germans..."

She sounds like a fascinating person but think I'll pass on the book. I wonder if there are any other bio's out there.


message 3: by KateNZ (new)

KateNZ | 2637 comments Denizen wrote: "I wonder if there are any other bio's out there. ..."

Hi Denizen - there are several listed on Goodreads. For instance, there's Nancy's own version The White Mouse and there's the older and apparently good biography from Russell Braddon Nancy Wake

It might just be me who didn't particularly like the writing - the Peter FitzSimons book has over a 4 star average on GR.


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