Publisher and Publication Date: Penguin Books. Paperback 2020.
Genre: Nonfiction. Biography. Women and literature.
Audience: Readers of World War II, women’s stories, and SOE history.
Rating: Very good.
Virginia Hall was born to a wealthy family in Baltimore, Maryland in 1906. She grew up an independent minded female. She was intelligent. She attended college. She traveled extensively through Europe. She worked for several years for the State Department at posts in Europe and Turkey. In the 1930s, and because of a hunting accident, she had a leg amputated. The recovery set her back a bit, but she went back to Europe and became involved in a new job with the SOE (Special Operations Executive.)
A Woman of No Importance covers all of Virginia’s life, but the focus is on the years working as an SOE agent in France during World War II.
Some important things I want to mention is A Woman of No Importance is not historical fiction. The narrator of the book is the author, Sonia Purnell. The book is narrative nonfiction. I use that term loosely. It is information heavy, and narrative nonfiction is a common approach.
I’ve read several reviews of readers who felt this book too dry. I disagree, because I read this book with the mind-set that it is nonfiction, and will be told in a way that is not like reading a historical fiction story.
A second point. Virginia Hall’s character matches the telling of the story. May I explain? I’ve written down a list of Virginia’s personality traits: highly intelligent, savvy, a physical person, strong memory for memorizing, courageous, stoic, in control of emotions, purposeful, determined, and tenacious. Her personality, talents, and abilities was the perfect recipe for the work of being an SOE agent.
What I love about this story:
*I’d never heard of Virginia Hall and her work during World War II. I enjoyed reading a first time story.
*Virginia was a unique woman during a time when it was rare for a woman to live a different type of life (a life outside of home and family.) And, even in comparing her against the men she worked with, she stands out in contrast, because of her acute intelligence, emotional strength, and courage.
*I enjoyed reading about her spy techniques.
*I enjoyed reading about the other people working in SOE, and the French civilians who helped.
*The Nazi’s hated Virginia and closed in on her location. I felt this was a possibility when I began reading the book. This made for tense moments while reading.
*37 black and white illustrations are included.
*The strong prologue set the atmosphere for the rest of the book.