I have this in hardcover, but I listened to the audiobook from the library. So I’m not sure if my feelings about the book are because I listened to it, or if I’d have felt the same reading it. I do know that Storm in a Teacup is a much better read about slightly similar subjects.
Stuff Matters is a relatively slim tome covering some of the marvelous ‘stuff’ we live with, and the selection is quite varied: concrete, stainless steel, chocolate, plastics (the most irritating of the chapters), glass, graphite. There was good information about said stuff in here, but I admit it didn’t hold my attention in nearly the same way as Storm in a Teacup.
The narrator’s voice reminded me strongly of an actor, whose character I can clearly see but can’t place. Very, very British, balding, bow tie, condescending and misanthropic in a humorous way. This might have had something to do with my impressions of the book, too, though I’d have to read the print version to be sure. And someday, I likely will.
In 1942, the Allies were losing, Germany seemed unstoppable, and every able man in England was on the front lines. To “set Europe ablaze,” in the words of Winston Churchill, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), whose spies were trained in everything from demolition to sharpshooting, was forced to do something unprecedented: recruit women. Thirty-nine answered the call, leaving their lives and families to become saboteurs in France.
In D-Day Girls, Sarah Rose draws on recently declassified files, diaries, and oral histories to tell the thrilling story of three of these remarkable women. There’s Andrée Borrel, a scrappy and streetwise Parisian who blew up power lines with the Gestapo hot on her heels; Odette Sansom, an unhappily married suburban mother who saw the SOE as her ticket out of domestic life and into a meaningful adventure; and Lise de Baissac, a fiercely independent member of French colonial high society and the SOE’s unflappable “queen.” Together, they destroyed train lines, ambushed Nazis, plotted prison breaks, and gathered crucial intelligence—laying the groundwork for the D-Day invasion that proved to be the turning point in the war.
Rigorously researched and written with razor-sharp wit, D-Day Girls is an inspiring story for our own moment of resistance: a reminder of what courage—and the energy of politically animated women—can accomplish when the stakes seem incalculably high.
In the midst of my May Re-Reading Binge, I did manage to finish one new book, and it’s one I’ve been trying to get from my libraries for the last year, at least.
D-Day Girls chronicles the experiences of some of the first women who joined the British war effort in WWII as spies and collaborators with the French Resistance.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite all I’d hoped. Part of the reason might have been the audio format. While the author gave a solid performance, she reads aloud the same way I do, and I don’t like the way I read aloud, because I’m trying to add life to the words and I suck at it. I’m not saying Sarah Rose sucks, but it definitely seemed as though she wasn’t totally comfortable doing it, either. The book’s narrative also jumps around a lot between people, times and places, something I can take in stride when I read, but when I listen, becomes a lot more challenging.
What definitely hurt my rating of this book was the fact that I’d already read/listened to A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, which chronicles the life of Virginia Hall, another woman who served Great Britain, and then the US, organising and running French Resistance. Purnell covers a few of the other players, but only as they were connected to Virginia Hall, and her time jumps were far less frequent, making it an easier book for me to fall into and one that affected me deeply.
Those two caveats aside, the book is a worthwhile read and Rose’s dedication to her subject comes through clearly in her writing. These women meant something to her beyond being historical subjects, and her efforts to bring them to life for the reader (or listener) shine through, audio or not. While Virginia Hall made it through the war relatively unscathed, these women were not so fortunate, and what they experienced and persevered through (especially Odette), made me want to go fetal in a corner and rock.
Books like this are widely considered Pop History, but I’ve never thought that was an insult; books like these are as important as the academically important History Books, because they remind us that history isn’t just about the wars and the battles and the generals who fought them. It’s about the cultures and societies and people who live through them, and Pop History books about women remind us that women have been stepping up, getting it done, and often giving their lives in the effort, long before Feminism became A Thing, and they’ve been doing it in spite of mens’ efforts to hold them back. That’s what I love about the women of historical importance: they never asked for permission or validation, they just did what needed to be done. And I love these books for bringing them out of obscurity.
I have many heroes of both genders, but almost without exception, the women who are my heroines are the ones that stepped up and led by example, and the D-Day Girls join their ranks.