I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, March 6, 2017

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

While this is a work of fiction, it could very well have happened.  Set in England and occupied France during World War II, it starts off with a wireless operator who has been captured in a town in France in one of the most stupid ways: she looked the wrong way while crossing the street, right in front of SS Officers.  Through a mix-up of some kind, she did not have her false papers on her, but her own real papers and those of Maddie, a female pilot who had flown her into France the other night and made her parachute out because the plane was malfunctioning and she was going to have to crash land. She is told that the pilot is dead and shown pictures of the burnt up plane.   The head of the Gestapo prison, SS-Hauptsurmfuher von Linden, gives her the privileges of having her clothes back, piece by piece, for each wireless code she gives them.  He then asks that she write down everything she knows about locations, planes, etc...  Instead, this young Scotts woman, nicknamed Queenie, tells the story of her friendship with Maddie.

Maddie, right before the war, rescues a female pilot who crash lands in a field where she lives.  Maddie is really quite good with engines but dreams of being a pilot.  This woman, one of the top pilots, gives her some lessons and promises her, later, after the war starts, that when the military opens up positions for female pilots to ferry people and planes around, she will be at the top of her list to recommend.  For a while, Maddie works with the WAAF as a radio operator helping pilots to land planes.  She is an excellent navigator and knows the terrain very well from flying.  One day a German pilot calls in to make a landing in Calais.  He's speaking in German, so it takes a moment to figure out what is going on.  It turns out that when the pilot crossed the Thames, he thought he was crossing the English Channel and was now in France.  Maddie quickly calls for a German translator and Queenie shows up.  Calmly, she gives the directions in perfect German that Maddie gives to her to help the pilot land and be taken in by the RAF.

The two women quickly become best friends and because of this incident, Maddie is now being sent to the Air Transport Auxiliary and Queenie (who got her nickname because she is distant royalty, related to William Wallace and Mary Stuart) joins the Special Operations Executive.  Though neither one is supposed to talk about what they do, one night after coming in late at night, Queenie, covered in bruises, confesses to what happened.  She is really working for the SOE as an interrogator.  She pretends to be a German officer grilling the German pilots who have just been shot down or captured and get information out of them.  This one, in particular, became very violent with her, but she prevailed in the end.

Linden is surprised to learn this about her because he thought this person was a legend.  After running out of hotel stationary (the Gestapo Prison is located in a hotel) she is given various pieces of paper to write on, including sheet music, recipe cards, and a Jewish doctor's prescription pad.  The Germans have her go on an American woman's pro-German propaganda show to attest to the fair treatment she is receiving there.  The others in the prison, mostly French resistance, hate her for giving in to the enemy.  But what is she really giving them?  She is also shackled to a chair with an iron rod strapped to her back and is tortured with cigarettes, kerosene, and a carbolic acid wash in her mouth.  She tells him her real name which is Lady Julia Lindsay MacKenzie Wallace Beaufort-Stuart, but not her code name, or anybody else's code name.  She insists on finishing her report before they take her to a concentration camp where she will be experimented on until she dies.

But that is only half of the story, from her point of view.   There is also Maddie's take on events and the story of what is really going on--what Queenie is not telling us.  Queenie's brother James (she has a total of five other siblings, all at work in the war effort) suffered from frostbite and lost his toes and bits of his fingers, so he quit flying fighter planes and instead went to work for the Civilians, like Maddie.  It his idea that Maddie takes Queenie to France that night since there was no one else to do so, even though it could get both of them in trouble.

There is quite a cast of incredible characters in this novel.  Brave souls from Britain fighting to beat Hitler and the French resistance risking the lives of not just themselves, but their families to help.  These women overcame prejudice about what women are capable of doing and they did so without much acknowledgment from the government.  These women were incredible and this story bears that out in spades.  As they say about good movies: you'll laugh and you'll cry.  You will also not be disappointed in this amazing book.

There’s no efficient way to kill yourself with a dressmaker’s pin (I wouldn’t call contacting gangrene an efficient way to kill yourself)..
--Elizabeth Wein (Code Name Verity p 62)
It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.
--Elizabeth Wein (Code Name Verity p 68)
Some of us still have not forgiven the English for the Battle of Culloden , the last battle to be fought on British soil, in 1746.  Imagine what we will say about Adolph Hitler in two hundred years.
--Elizabeth Wein (Code Name Verity p 118)
The man I interviewed that night didn’t believe in me.  He accused me of treachery.  Treason against the Fatherland—what was I doing working for the enemy, the English? He called me a collaborator, a backstabber, a filthy English whore.  You know—the stupid man’s big mistake was in calling me ENGLISH.  It made my fury wholly convincing.  A whore—maybe I’ll consider that in desperation; filthy, it goes without saying; but whatever else the hell I am, I AM NOT ENGLISH.
--Elizabeth Wein (A Scottish SOE Agent pretending to be a German Agent in order to got Intel) Code Name Verity p 163
Have taken Paul’s revolver apart and put it back together 7 times.  It is not as interesting as a radial engine.
--Elizabeth Wein (Code Name Verity p 220)
This ink is amazing, it really doesn’t smear even when you cry on it.
--Elizabeth Wein (Code Name Verity p 228)
Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Code-Name-Verity-Elizabeth-Wein-ebook/dp/B007Y7UVHE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1488808484&sr=8-1&keywords=codename+verity

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