Her latest, Madam Fourcade’s Secret War, is a welcome addition to the lineup. It may not topple my current favorites, but it is a fascinating story.
Marie-Madeline Fourcade, a young French socialite, was the only woman to serve as the head of a spy network in occupied France during World War II. At its height, her intelligence network, nicknamed Noah’s Ark by the Nazi’s because the key leaders had animal code names, included several thousand men and women. Fourcade selected the alias “Hedgehog” for herself. A deceptively tough little animal, it was an apt moniker for the resourceful Fourcade.
From early 1940, her group engaged in espionage against the Germans and provided information to and worked in partnership with MI6, Britain’s chief foreign intelligence agency.
Although one reads about the French Resistance movement often in World War II histories, when the Germans invaded Western Europe in May of 194o there was no “resistance.” Fourcade and her early partner were among the first French to “resist,” and they established a spy network from scratch, recruiting members, raising money, establishing communication protocols and safe houses, buying radio equipment, and initiating and maintaining contact with Britain.
As the war progressed, the group got bigger and the risks greater. Fourcade was targeted by the Nazis and forced to move every few days, often changing her hair color and adopting other disguises. Although separated from her husband at the time, Fourcade had two children who she barely saw for the duration of the war. While on the run, Fourcade became pregnant and gave birth to a child. (Let’s see a man do that!)
Fourcade was captured twice by the Germans, but escaped both times. Many, many of her colleagues were not so lucky, including her lover and the father of her child.
Fourcade was duly celebrated after the war and wrote a memoir in the late 1960’s entitled Noah’s Art. But her exploits are not well known outside of France. Olson speculates that other resistance activities such as sabotage and escape lines have received more attention because of their dramatic nature, but espionage being inherently super-secret has not.
But Fourcade and her group made major contributions to the war effort, providing the British with reams of relevant, timely information about German activities.
An astounding story.
What Other Reviewers Say
Paula McLain, author of The Paris Wife: “Lynne Olson is at the top of her game, giving the renowned beauty and elite French socialite Marie-Madeline Fourcade, who surprised everyone-including herself, perhaps-by becoming one of the most consequential players in the high stakes spy game in Nazi-occupied France. Fourcade’s nerve, resolve, and extraordinary inner resources shine and inspire here.”
Who Wrote It
Lynne Olson is the New York Times bestselling author of Last Hope Island, Those Angry Days, Citizens of London, and Troublesome Young Men. She lives in Washington, D.C.