Saturday, January 11, 2014

Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm no history buff. A lot of people my age know a lot more than I do about WWII pilots and the politics and battles. Generally, I find books about the time period intimidating. But this seemed a perspective I could wrap my mind around.

Code Name Verity is the story of two women who would never have met, much less become best friends, if not for WWII. They're switchboard operators at a British airfield when one, Maddie Brodatt, hears a German pilot asking for navigational help. A Scottish woman called Queenie (only much later in the narrative do we learn she's Julie Beaufort-Stuart), who speaks German fluently thanks to her Swiss boarding school education, relays Maddie's instructions, leading the pilot to their airfield for capture and questioning. That night, the airfield is bombed. Rather than making fun of Maddie's fear, Julie helps her through it, and the two are soon fast friends.

Maddie has had pilot's training, while Julie is clearly the perfect spy. Thanks to the war, their talents are put to good use, and Maddie is frequently the one flying Julie to her assignments. Their strengths and weaknesses complement one another, so this is an excellent arrangement. Then one night, Julie is to go into German-occupied France, and her pilot is in a car accident. Maddie arranges to become her pilot, but the plane is damaged in the crossing, and she crash lands. Julie parachutes down safely, but is captured when she looks the wrong way crossing a French street. The narrative picks up after she's been tortured into confessing, and is writing out the story of how she came to be in France.

Most of Julie's narrative is about Maddie, though she does eventually get around to confessing her role as a spy. It isn't until the story shifts to Maddie's perspective that we find out how cleverly Julie has played it.

Though this is a fictional work, it does an excellent job of illustrating the role of women in WWII. There are women pilots and spies, though they're often protected to the detriment of the British cause. Female pilots are barred from flying to France or engaging in battles, and are given the slower, more unwieldy aircraft to fly. The Royal Air Force does put some effort into training female pilots, but it lets them go to waste.

The afterword by the author explains the points in which she takes liberties with history. The airfield names are fictionalized, as is the French city where Julie is captured and interrogated. Of course the characters are made up, but the spy who was captured for looking the wrong way on a French street was based on a true event.

I feel like there was a need for this book. There are plenty of stories about male friendship in war, but precious few about female friends. Maddie and Julie love one another (platonically), and they're so attuned to one another, they have the same dream on the same night. Their stories are told in their own voices, but they often match up in eerily similar ways. That Julie is telling her German captors what was going through Maddie's mind at any given moment is easier to believe, once the reader sees how attuned they are.

I enjoyed this book, and I'm glad I didn't let the time period or subject matter intimidate me out of reading it.

I read Code Name Verity on audio, narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell. Each narrator took a perspective character apiece. Morven Christie's range of accents was varied, and sounded accurate to my American ear, while Lucy Gaskell often sounded like a younger Emma Thompson. Her accents weren't as good, but, as Maddie's were also lacking, it fit. The afterword in the audio edition is read aloud by the author.

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