Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler
Publisher: Random House (March 5, 2019)
Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton
I picked up my copy of Madame Fourcade's Secret War at the same time I read Sarah Rose's D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II. After all, both books were published only a month apart, perfectly timed to reach readers interested in this summer's 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. I admit a unique motive. I wanted to troll for details I could use in a spy story I'm working on set on a different planet dominated by women engaged in a brutal war.
I easily got my money's worth from both titles. For readers with more normal inclinations, I can recommend Madame Fourcade's Secret War just as enthusiastically as I did D-Day Girls earlier this month.
While there's obvious overlap in context and setting, these two explorations of women spies travel very different roads. D-Day Girls focuses on female members of the S.O.E., the Special Operations Executive. Madame Fourcade didn't work for the S.O.E. but instead headed an independent network called "Alliance" that reported to England's MI6. Sabotage wasn't Fourcade's main purpose, gathering intelligence was.
Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was a complex woman battling her way through a man's world. She built up the Alliance network, especially clandestine radio operators and couriers, then rebuilt it again after the Gestapo gutted Alliance operations and rebuilt it again and again after dangerous duels with the Gestapo. Much of her time, Fourcade lived like a fugitive on the run using various aliases and disguises. Some of her most interesting adventures included harrowing escapes from German prisons.
Some readers are likely going to turn a sour eye on Fourcade due to her very non-maternal treatment of her children. At the onset of the war, she had two youngsters who she quickly had flee to Switzerland without her. During the war, she bore another baby she entrusted to caretakers and went years at a time without seeing any of them. According to Olson, Fourcade had little to say on this in her 1972 memoir, Noah's Ark, but expressed grief for many of the agents she worked with or recruited who didn't survive the war. Her post-war children would later say their mother was never especially maternal. Instead, her Alliance members would be her family until her death in 1989.
It's important to know the Allies learned about the V2 rocket due to the Alliance network and the Normandy invasion was greatly facilitated due to their intelligence. Alliance was the longest lasting and most successful resistance network in France even if Fourcade wasn't destined to earn all the credit she deserved, thanks largely to murky French politics and good ole sexism.
If you're interested in French-set World War II stories, spy stories, or women's studies, like D-Day Girls, this biography is well worth your time. It centers on the legacy of one woman but it also includes the tales of some of the more important Alliance leaders, the ways of espionage in the era, as well as painting what life was like in occupied France.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on July 25, 2019:
My review of Sarah Rose's D-Day Girls was first published at BookPleasures.com on July 1, 2019: