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review 2019-10-01 01:27
A book about a woman of valor!
A Woman of No Importance - Sonia Purnell

A Woman of No Importance, Sonia Purnell, author; Juliet Stevenson narrator

Virginia Hall was a woman with a singular goal. As a United States citizen, when World War II started, she was determined to do her part to defeat Germany in its effort to obtain world domination. However, a few years before, while hunting, she forgot to set the safety on her weapon, and she accidentally shot herself, resulting in the amputation of her leg. Although she was fitted with a wooden leg which she handled very well, when she attempted to work with the Armed Forces, they did not want her help, nor did they believe that she could successfully accomplish anything in the war effort with her disability. In addition, she was a woman and work in the field was generally designated for men. Women were thought to be suited for different kinds of work and she was offered administrative jobs, but nothing to excite or challenge her. She wanted to do paramilitary work, organizing and working with guerillas and the resistance. Rejected by the United States, she sought work in England. When, at first, they rejected her also, she went to France and became an ambulance driver in the war zone. Eventually, however, she went to work for the British, SOE, the Special Operations Executive. She eventually proved herself very valuable, but as a woman, she never truly achieved the honor or glory to which she aspired or which she deserved. She was often passed over for missions that were given to men to execute, after she planned them. Still, she never really did seek recognition or glory. She only sought to organize the resistance movement to successfully aid in shortening the war and eventually prevent Hitler’s success.

Virginia worked in France with several identities and disguises. She organized bands of resisters, often losing many of them when they were discovered and often being tricked by those who betrayed them. Each loss was felt like a personal blow to her. Still, for the most part, she successfully impeded Germany’s efforts and helped to liberate Paris. Most of her effort was expended in the area under the control of Marshall Petain who ruled the Vichy government, an area that was promised complete freedom, but eventually was under the complete control of Hitler.

Virginia, known as Diane, La Madone, and other names, assumed various identities and disguises, always successfully disguising her disability, age and beauty. She distributed money, food and weapons, organzed guerilla groups and their efforts at sabotage, and organized unbelievably dangerous and difficult rescues of prisoners. Her own rescue from prison was daring as well. She was unafraid of danger and actually seemed to relish it. She risked her own life hiding and operating a radio that she used to pass coded information which was invaluable to the Allies.

Virginia arranged false papers, false identities, safe houses and dangerous escape routes. Often seeming superhuman in her efforts, once even hiking out of snow covered mountains with her artificial leg that she called Cuthbert, Virginia was a largely unsung heroine. However, though she herself, preferred not to be publicly lauded or given awards, she never did receive the honor or promotions she truly deserved. She did eventually achieve a Captain’s rank and a leadership role that enabled her to lead the resistance groups and their efforts more effectively. In addition to working for the SOE, she also worked for the State Department and the CIA in America. She was eventually awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by President Truman for her work with the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services which was the forerunner of the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency. Late in life, she found love with Paul Goillot, a fellow resistance worker from Britain. Although smaller in stature than Virginia, and less educated, they were very compatible and eventually married.

The book contained too many names to keep straight without some kind of format to keep track of them, however the narrator did such an excellent job in her reading of it, that the possible tedious nature of the book as it described similar situations again and again was mitigated. Still it felt very long with its main theme concentrating on the lack of women’s rights in the armed forces, and in general. She was a woman scorned by the system, not because she was unqualified, but because of her gender. Her indomitable spirit won out each time as she constantly battled and persevered to accomplish her ultimate ambitious efforts. She was incredibly brave and far heartier than most men and women that were her equals. She was an asset to the war effort.

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review 2019-08-28 10:07

 

 

 

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

Sonia Purnell  

Hardcover: 368 pages

Publisher: Viking (April 9, 2019)

ISBN-10: 073522529X

ISBN-13: 978-0735225299     

https://www.amazon.com/Woman-No-Importance-Untold-American/dp/073522529X

 

This summer turned out to be my unexpected exploration into female participants in the French resistance during World War II. It began when I read D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose as well as Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler by Lynne Olson. Now, I've read a long-overdue, in-depth biography of American spy Virginia Hall by Sonia Purnell. I must concur with all the other complimentary reviewers who gave this history five star reviews.

  

I first read a short but very complimentary biography of Virginia Hall in Emily Yellen'sOur Mother's War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II (2004). In fact, Hall was the premiere lady spy in Yellen's overview that only glancingly looked at behind-the-lines operatives in France. Of course, Purnell's tome reaches far beyond the sort of general information Yellen had access to.

 

Purnell's years of research is an impressive achievement considering the gaps in available files and the likelihood many of Hall's exploits were never recorded by anyone. Part of this oversight is likely based on the reality Hall's labors were so clandestine there was every reason not to keep files on her work. Equally important is the fact female agents were not the norm and there was a widespread prejudice against women being involved in the war at all except as support staff, code-breakers, ambulance-drivers, the like.

 

In the case of Hall, her persistence in breaking through the glass ceiling is even more impressive when you realize she was raised and groomed for a life as well-off--and married--woman in high society, not a rough-and-tumble agent living on the lam and in often dire circumstances.  Add to that that the lower half of her left leg had been amputated leaving Hall a woman with a disability that could have dimmed her prospects--if not for that determined, iron will of hers.

 

Because of that leg and her age, Hall wasn't the most likely covert agent for the Gestapo to hunt. She was versatile in her use of disguises, using her disability as a way to throw the hounds off her trail. All she really couldn't do was run. But she could hike across a treacherous mountain trail in the snowy Pyrenees. And that was just one exploit to admire in Hall's many-faceted career.

 

Another woman to admire is biographer Sonia Purnell who not only keeps a fast-paced, detailed story going, but she keeps reader interest with her scattered indications of what is to come, especially the consequences of certain events. It becomes very clear Virginia Hall was a stand-out officer during World War II and could have become a valuable asset in the CIA had the agency not been populated by the Father Knows Best  mentality of the Cold War years.

 

So readers learn much more than the day-to-day operations of Hall's covert actions and I often wondered where Purnell found so many minute details of conversations, movements, relationships, etc. As with the other books I've read this summer, I ended up feeling a sense of shame that there was a time when women, no matter how talented, Creative, motivated or successful, just didn't get their due and rightful recognition. Until now.

 

 

 

My July 1, 2019 review of D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose first appeared at BookPleasures.com:

https://waa.ai/XA7U

 

 

 

My July 25th review of Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler by Lynne Olson first appeared at BookPleasures.com:

https://waa.ai/3uLD

 

 

This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Aug. 26 at BookPleasures.com:

 

https://waa.ai/3RtY



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text 2019-08-04 08:57
BL-opoly: Playing the Robot Card #2
Provenance - Ann Leckie
The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis - Thomas Goetz
The Poisoned Chocolates Case - Anthony Berkeley
China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh
Jenseits des Tweed - Theodor Fontane
The Silence of the Girls - Pat Barker
A Woman of No Importance - Sonia Purnell
Becoming - Michelle Obama
Abaddon's Gate - James S.A. Corey
Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History - Erik Larson

I can´t be bothered to pick out ten new books from my shelves, so it´s essentially the same list as the last time in another order and Theodor Fontane´s travelogue about Scottland as a new addition.

 

1. Provenance

2. The Remedy

3. The Poisened Chocolates Case

4. China Mountain Zhang

5. Jenseit des Tweed

6. The Silence of the Girls

7. A Woman of No Importance

8. Becoming

9. Abanddon´s Gate

10. Isaac´s Storm

 

And the random number generator says:

 

 

The winner this time is:

 

The Silence of the Girls - Pat Barker 

 

 

The Silence of the Girls is a retelling of The Iliad told from the perspective of the women in the war (and especially Briseis´ point of view). In the past I struggled with retelling of greek myths, so I´m curious if this book is going to work for me. 

 

 

 

 

 

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text 2019-07-31 21:06
BL-opoly: Playing the Robot Card
Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History - Erik Larson
Abaddon's Gate - James S.A. Corey
The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis - Thomas Goetz
The Poisoned Chocolates Case - Anthony Berkeley
A Woman of No Importance - Sonia Purnell
China Mountain Zhang - Maureen F. McHugh
Becoming - Michelle Obama
The Silence of the Girls - Pat Barker
The Hotel On Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris - Tilar J. Mazzeo
Provenance - Ann Leckie

Okay! So I have two piles of books lying beside me, five fiction novels and five non-fiction books. The contestants are:

 

1. Isaac´s Storm

2. Abaddon´s Gate

3. The Remedy

4. The Poisoned Chocolate Case

5. A Woman of No Importance

6. China Mountain Zhang

7. Becoming

8. The Silence of the Girls

9. The Hotel on Place Vendome

10. Provenance

 

And I´m going to read .... drum roll, please....

 

 The Hotel On Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris - Tilar J Mazzeo  

 

 

 

Gosh, that book has been on my TBR forever. It´s about time that I read it.

 

On a side note: I changed this ugly cover of China Mountain Zhang to the actual cover (the wrong cover is truly hideous and I just cannot stand it). I would be super grateful, if a helpful librarian would confirm the change. Thanks :)

 

 

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review 2017-02-13 16:10
First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill
First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill - Sonia Purnell Review to follow.
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