I just finished reading our bookclub selection, Dragonfly by Leah Meacham, a retired English teacher and accomplished author. Dragonfly was expertly researched especially concerning the Nazi military and intelligence agencies in Nazi-occupied Paris. And Meacham writes with the authority of an author who has done her homework. This historical fiction has a dual timeline- the 1940s war years and the 1960s. The basic plot is that the Office of Strategic Service, predecessor of the CIA sends five young Americans to Paris in integrate into French society, hobnob with Nazis and their supporters and secretly radio useful info to the OSS chief Alistair Renault. These five young Americans were from vastly different socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. All were fluent in French and German with these languages sometimes being the language of their childhood home. Renault researches, recruits and trains these young spies and air drops them behind enemy lines outside of Paris. Meacham gives the reader a good understanding of the horrors of the German occupation of Paris- the starvation, the black market, the treasonous relationships necessary to survive. These five Americans integrate into French society as an engineer, a fencing instructor, a track and field instructor in a school full of Nazi boys, a fly-fishing instructor and a fashion designer. And boy, are they successful! They relay incredible hearsay information which helps the Allied cause. But are they also being setup by Nazi intelligence? If they are, then why does the information always turn out correct?
Meacham delves into the moral and ethical gray areas of WW2 through her Nazi characters, particularly SS Colonel Derrick Albrecht and Major General Konrad March along with their most valued military aids. Meacham demonstrates a strong understanding of the German military organizations of the Abwehr, Schutzstaffel and Sicherheitsdienst which makes Albrecht and March realistic and relatable characters. Yes, you read correctly. These two Nazi officers are realistic and relatable, but you’ll have to read the book to find out why! And then tell me you didn’t hope Derrick and Victoria would somehow end up together at war’s end!
The reader will come to really love these five young Americans. They are strong, patriotic, and intelligent people who risked their lives everyday. They are dropped in Paris without knowing each other’s real names or any personal information. But the bond is strong and deep and will continue to be for decades after the war. They all take the mission for deeply personal reasons which Meacham reveals to us. Their reasons only make them more lovable to us and more vulnerable to the Nazis. And the two female spies are as gutsy and determined as their male counterparts. No prissy eye-batting going on with these two girls! Don’t you just love strong female characters!