Thursday, May 13, 2021

Women's Roles in World War II.


I have seen a trend in literature lately of telling the stories of women's roles in World War II. The ones I've encountered recently run the gamut from pure fiction to biography. At least three of the books I've read recently are set at least in part in Paris. 

Kristin Harmel's novel The Book of Lost Names traces the life of Eve Traube, a Jewish girl forced to leave Paris with her mother after her father was taken on a roundup when the two women were out of their apartment. She has to forge their papers to leave, and her talent for forgery is recognized in the Free Zone, where the two women are staying as they wait to escape to Switzerland. She is recruited by the local priest to help forge documents for Jewish children being spirited out of France. 

The book opens with Eve as an older widow in American, spotting in a news report a book that had been discovered, which she recognized as the volume she used to keep a record of the children's real names, lest they be lost.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles follows the life of Odile, a young Parisian woman who ends up living as a widow in the U.S. As Charles' epilogue explains, the book is based on real lives of people who worked in the American Library in Paris during World War II. They took chances delivering books to their Jewish patrons after they were denied access to the library. 

Charles' book divides the focus between Odile and young schoolgirl Lily, a neighbor to Odile in Montana. Lily befriends the woman they consider mysterious, a friendship that grows after Lily loses her mother and finds herself with a new stepmother and young brothers.

Both the young Odile and Lily often behave in ways that make them less sympathetic. Odile's infatuation with a young man leads her to overlook his questionable behavior. Lily's immaturity sometimes causes her to act thoughtlessly toward others who trust her as well. The saving grace of the book is the story of some of the employees and subscribers of the American Library in Paris whose lives were intertwined as they faced life in Paris under German occupation.

Next on my list is A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, the story of Virginia Hall, an American woman who acted with great daring and valor as a spy during World War II, despite having to live with a prosthetic leg after injuring herself in a shooting accident. Purnell spent about three years researching the life of Hall, not only detailing her undercover exploits but the difficulties that she had to overcome because she was a woman. She was continually placed in secretarial position despite her ambition and her abilities. The film rights have been sold for the book which has the potential to become a film of high adventure.


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