Monday, December 31, 2012

La Verité


Have you ever read a book that was so interesting that, once you were done, you started over and read it again? I have read perhaps three books in my life that made me do this. Code Name Verity, a World War II espionage novel by Elizabeth Wein, is one of them.

Verity is the code name of a young British spy who has been captured by the Gestapo. (Her other aliases include Queenie, Scottie, Eva, and Katherine.)  After a week of torture, she’s broken and she is giving it all up: wireless codes, airfields, everything she knows.

Her captors give her paper and she begins to write, hoping to dribble information out slowly enough to delay her inevitable execution. What she writes makes up the first portion of this novel.

It is not so much a confession as a story - the story of Verity's friend, Maddie, a motorbike mechanic before the war who becomes a radio operator in the WAAFs. It was as a radio operator that Maddie met the girl called Queenie. Maddie, gallant and straightforward, learned to fly and and became a pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary. Queenie, with a gift for languages and for lying, was recruited into the Special Operations Executive, which conducted undercover espionage and sabotage operations. And they became solid friends. “It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend,” writes Verity.

The first time I read the Code Name Verity, I found it breathlessly suspenseful. We follow these two young women through their wartime careers, knowing that one of them is going to end up spilling her guts to the Gestapo. How did she get there? What happened to Maddie? What is going to happen to them? How long can Verity stay alive, trading time for secrets?

Then, after the book concludes with a head-snapping change of perspective, I started over.  This time I read it more slowly, puzzling out the clues, unraveling the mystery. Because this book is a mystery, one whose the end shows you that nothing is the way you thought it was when you started.

Look for the hints. Verity introduces her narrative by writing, “I am a coward. I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending.”

She is.

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