jueves, 8 de mayo de 2014

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue - Kathryn J. Atwood

Summary (from Goodreads):

Organized by country, this historical exploration includes stories of girls and women from across Europe and the United States who risked their lives to perform extremely dangerous acts against the Nazis during World War II. The 26 profiles bring to life courageous women such as Noor Inayat Khan, a radio operator who parachuted into occupied France and transferred crucial messages; Johtje Vos, the Dutch housewife who hid Jews in her home and was repeatedly interrogated by the Gestapo; and Hannie Schaft, a Dutch law student who became involved in the most dangerous resistance work--sabotage, weapons transference, and assassinations. The profiles are written using dialogue, direct quotes, and document excerpts to lend authenticity and immediacy. Each profile includes one or more informative sidebars and is followed by a list of relevant books, websites, and films, making it an attractive resource for teachers, parents, and libraries.

I read this in March to celebrate Women's History Month, but real life and my own laziness have delayed this review. World War II is a topic that I never get tired of exploring, so this title instantly caught my eye when I saw it on my library's WHM display. I've read quite a bit about the role of women on the Home Front, but was completely clueless about their role on the actual frontline. Women Heroes of World War II filled that gap nicely.

This short non-fiction book is divided in sections, grouping the women geographically. Every section starts with a short overview of the state of the affairs in each country, and is followed by a brief profiling of these World War II heroes. It includes a great range of women - from teenagers to mature ladies, from all over Europe and the US, and from all social strata, so it should be easy to find someone to get the reader's interest. The accounts are really concise, since they are intended to serve as an introduction to these women. For this reason, the author has decided to include "Learn More" sections and additional bibliography, which really come in handy when you want to explore the subject in more depth. My only quibble with Women Heroes of World War II is that the voice was a bit juvenile at times, although always compelling and no-nonsense, but I guess this is because of the intended YA reader audience.

I especially enjoyed the focus on the impact that being a women had on each of their roles during WWII: their gender helped them escape situations that would have meant death for a man, or allowed them to go incognito because of the perception of women as too meek to have an important part in the Resistance. In a way, it was easier for them to be spies for the SOE/OSS or other organizations. On the other hand, they had less freedom to travel around and their willingness was often doubted. They definitely could do things men couldn't, and Kathryn Atwood has chosen to celebrate this in her book. At the same time, it doesn't detract from the inherent difficulties of their mission - I'm really happy with the results.

I loved learning about each of these great women, but I have to admit that I have two favorites: Martha Gellhorn, who had a powerful and engaging voice, and led a most interesting life as a war correspondent, and Noor Inayat Kahn, who sadly died during the war. She had been brought up among luxuries and had been given the best education, but when the time came, she was tougher than most. Somehow the vision of this willowy, wispy woman trying to escape the Nazi officials by hoping from roof to roof is endearing. She failed the fake-torture that was part of her training, but standed the real interrogations with more aplomb than many others. I guess I identify with stubborn women who approach the world on their own terms.

I'm conflicted about Hannie Schaft, though. The more I've read about her, the more I've realized that she is a symbol of Resistance in the Netherlands, but I have conflicted feelings about her. Unlike the other heroes included in this book, Schaft's mission was killing dangerous targets, many of whom were civilians affiliated to the Netherlander equivalent of the Nazi Party or collaborationist people (policemen, politicians, whatever). It's true she never went in for unjustified killing and even reported those of the RVV who did, but her role is a stark contrast with the more pacific ones of the rest of the women featured in the book. I'm also uncomfortable with her decision of not reporting herself to the Nazi Party when her parents were captured as hostages and sent to a Concentration Camp. Even though they were unharmed, she really didn't know whether everything would be right at the end. I'm aware that this uneasiness with labeling Hannie Schaft as a hero stems from my pacifist ideology, so it isn't a problem of the book, but mine. And I'm also aware that the Nazis weren't defeated without violence, but I wish it had been so.

All in all, this is a great introductory book that I cannot recommend enough. Unfortunately, my edition (by Spanish publishing house EDAF) was a mess from start to finish. The translation is terribly poor and it gave me the feeling of having been edited way too fast and carelessly. There were lots of repeated/missing words, and mistakes with homophones and similar words, that at times changed the whole meaning of the sentence. I'm sad Jorge Rus and his editor/s did such a poor work - it is a real disservice to a really good book.

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

This book counts for the Nonfiction category of the Reading Outside the Box Challenge 2014 that I'm participating in.

2 comentarios:

  1. Sounds like a really interesting work - I love that there's learn more sections after each person! And I hadn't heard of any of those women, so clearly need to read up!

    1. It is, indeed! And the author has a new book out this month, focusing of women heroes of WWI, in case you are interested! :)