Monday, June 29, 2020

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

Hello! Thought I'd pop in here and share my thoughts about my most recent read: A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell.



My mom came to visit me, to help with our recent move, and on her way over she bought this book in the airport. She read it while she was here and kept telling us how Virginia Hall's life was SO compelling. When she was packing her bags I asked her to leave the book behind, so that I could read it. And because she cares more about my feelings than about the refund she would get if she returned it, she left it behind. Yay for moms!

This book covers Virginia's life from early childhood through death. I would say the main focus of the book is her time as a spy in WWII. But I really did feel like the pre- and post-war parts of the book helped enrich her story. The amount of research that went into this book was so impressive to me.

The basic idea is this: a young woman from Baltimore's society would like to become a US Ambassador. However, that just isn't done in these times, and especially not if you have a wooden leg, as she does. Her political savvy, love of Europe, and drive to find purpose in life can't be denied, though! They lead her to become the first Allied woman to be deployed behind enemy lines. She works tirelessly for years. Her work "helps light the flame of the French Resistance" to Nazi control, and she becomes a legend. I mean, literally. Events from her actual life have been put into WWII books and movies abundantly. From finding out how people on the streets feel, to rescuing prisoners from prison, to organizing munitions drops, she did it all.

I would rate the writing quality very high. I was able to keep really good track of the people in the story, thanks to deft writing. I struggled to get the feel of the book at first -- I've read far more memoirs than biographies. My initial reaction was an echo of a high school English teacher: "All this author does is tell. Where's the showing?" However, I knew the book would be good (Thanks, Mom!) and soon grew accustomed to the style. I really ended up feeling like I knew these people, by the end of the book.

One of my outstanding impressions of the book was about how much Virginia worked. She complained about people who wanted glory and were unwilling to "put in the work" -- that made me take a look at myself. Do I put in the work?

I read this book at a really wonderful time. Reading about WWII helped me to remember just how good I have it right now, and enabled me to practice a little more gratitude for my current daily life.

I recommend this book. It is written for an adult audience and I think that is on the mark. However, I personally wouldn't have a problem with my high schooler reading it, if they wanted to. There is a paragraph I skipped (the description of some of the ways that Nazis tortured prisoners began to make my stomach turn), but other than that no graphic descriptions of violence, no swearing. There is some sexual content -- talk of mistresses, prostitutes, and a brothel, but no explicit sexual content.

Virginia Hall really paved a way for women in undercover work, and her story was enthralling.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review! I'm definitely going to add this one to my list. I used to say historical fiction was my favorite genre but, while I still like it a lot, I'm loving reading about the experiences of real people in history lately.

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