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Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2013

    Growing up, Cecile Pearl Witherington didn't have an easy childh

    Growing up, Cecile Pearl Witherington didn't have an easy childhood. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother grew up in a well-to-do family and wasn't prepared for the struggles of being a "single parent." At a young age, Pearl took on a lot of responsibility that ultimately prepared her for her important role in World War II.Because of her British citizenship and her upbringing in Paris, Pearl spoke English and French. she became an SOE agent. When the Germans invaded France, Pearl and her family fled back to England.
    The SOE (Special Operations Executive) is one of those little-known yet fascinating events of World War II. It was so top-secret most had never heard of it until after the war. A British organization designed to help resistance movements in Nazi-occupied Europe, the SOE participated in sabotage, espionage, reconnaissance, and all types of guerrilla warfare. After grueling SOE training and three practice jumps, 29-year-old Pearl parachuted into Nazi-occupied France on a cold September night in 1943.
    Posing as a cosmetics saleswoman, Pearl began her resistance work by participating in little acts of defiance against the Nazis. Things take a turn for the worst when her boss Maurice Southgate was captured by the Gestapo (Nazi police) and taken to Buchenwald (a concentration camp) - leaving Pearl in charge of 3,500 resistance workers. For the rest of the war, she bravely led the 3,500 resistance workers under the name Pauline.
    After the war, Pearl settled down with her pre-war fiance, Henri Cornioley. She never spoke about her work in the resistance because she was afraid her story would be twisted with Hollywood-drama or exaggerations. Fifty years later, Pearl began to realize the impact her story could have on young people. She told a French journalist about their wartime experiences, and her story was published in France as Pauline. This book, Code Name Pauline, is the English translation, edited by Kathryn J. Atwood.
    This book, since it is aimed at a young adult audience, is pretty easy to follow along. The story is straightforward and told solely as it had happened - very little drama is present. Pearl gracefully took all of life's challenges. The beginning of each chapter fills us in with some historical background, which really helps the reader, especially if you've never heard of the SOE.
    I have always loved strong female protagonists, especially in true stories. I loved Kathryn Atwood's book Women Heroes of World War II and I was so excited to hear she was in the process of editing another book (this book). Our culture does not put enough emphasis on true heroes, like Henri and Pearl. We need to show young girls courageous females like Pearl and do exactly what she would have wanted - share her story to encourage young people facing trials in their life.
    Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my review.

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  • Posted August 1, 2013

    It is fact-filled, dry and unemotional. Something you tend to se

    It is fact-filled, dry and unemotional. Something you tend to see/read often in first hand accounts of wartime and/or combat situations.
    I don't think people really comprehend the level of fear, anxiety and trauma that soldiers and non-military went through and indeed still go through. The only thing that differs is the amount and level due to the type of conflict or country it is taking place in. So with that in mind I can understand how Pearl's account can appear devoid of emotion or a little dry.
    I know it was her own wish to not let the events be depicted in an overly dramatic way. Pearl makes her experiences seem completely normal and ordinary. They are far from that and how could a reader looking back at those events not think they were an extraordinary feat of bravery in such dire times.
    I think Pearl attempts to equal the playing field by making everyone and every event seem almost casual because she doesn't want to elevate her own role in those events. No person is more important than any other. I admire that in her but at the same time think she should and can own her bravery and courage.
    As most eyewitness accounts of wartime events this counts as part of history and although it may not be a work of literary prowess it is a work that should be read for posterity.
    I received an ARC of this book via NetGalley.

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