The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason
Unabridged, 10 hr. 44 min.
Fred Sullivan (Narrator)
July 11, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Downloaded audio from my local library
“Inspired by the wartime experiences of her late father-in-law, award-winning author Bobbie Ann Mason has written an unforgettable novel about an American World War II pilot shot down in Occupied Europe.
When Marshall Stone returns to his crash site decades later, he finds himself drawn back in time to the brave people who helped him escape from the Nazis. He especially recalls one intrepid girl guide who risked her life to help him—the girl in the blue beret.
At twenty-three, Marshall Stone was a U.S. flyboy stationed in England. Headstrong and cocksure, he had nine exhilarating bombing raids under his belt when enemy fighters forced his B-17 to crash-land in a Belgian field near the border of France. The memories of what happened next—the frantic moments right after the fiery crash, the guilt of leaving his wounded crewmates and fleeing into the woods to escape German troops, the terror of being alone in a foreign country—all come rushing back when Marshall sets foot on that Belgian field again.
Marshall was saved only by the kindness of ordinary citizens who, as part of the Resistance, moved downed Allied airmen through clandestine, often outrageous routes (over the Pyrenees to Spain) to get them back to their bases in England. Even though Marshall shared a close bond with several of the Resistance members who risked their lives for him, after the war he did not look back. But now he wants to find them again—to thank them and renew their ties. Most of all, Marshall wants to find the courageous woman who guided him through Paris. She was a mere teenager at the time, one link in the underground line to freedom.
Marshall’s search becomes a wrenching odyssey of discovery that threatens to break his heart—and also sets him on a new course for the rest of his life. In his journey, he finds astonishing revelations about the people he knew during the war—none more electrifying and inspiring than the story of the girl in the blue beret.
Intimate and haunting, The Girl in the Blue Beret is a beautiful and affecting story of love and courage, war and redemption, and the startling promise of second chances.”
I haven’t read too many WWII books and I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this one when I started it; but what I got from it was certainly not what I expected! This is not your typical historical novel. The actual present time of the novel is the 1980’s; not all that far ago and it is even a time period I have lived through, and I can’t say that for very many things!
However, what I found so interesting about this novel is that we get to relive experiences of the main character, Marshall, as well as members of the Resistance that he again meets up with from the days of WWII. Sometimes shown through flashbacks, sometimes as conversation between characters we are let into that world that increasingly becoming a distant memory today. The author makes these conversations feel seamless and not as just a way to get information to the reader. We learn not only about what it was like from Marshall’s perspective to be hidden by locals and travel an underground railroad of sorts out of France, but also what it was like to be a member of the Resistance hiding downed airmen and the risks they took every day. It is more of a memorial to these many unsung heroes – without them many of the airmen of the United States and England would not have survived.
The beginning of the novel was a little plodding for me. There felt like there was too much about the present day life that Marshall was leading. His life was, quite frankly, boring and I didn’t care about him much until he made it back to France and to the crash site. He started to feel like a character that I could care about at that point. The characters were very well rendered and I loved them all. You could easily visualize what they all looked like and what they were doing. When they would flashback it was like a movie was playing in my mind. The emotions seeped from the characters and their responses to the events felt so real.
By the time I reached the end of the novel I didn’t want to put it down. The ending does definitively end at any sort of event or revelation either – it just sort of…ends. While it felt a little weird where it ended on my initial reading, as I have had some time to think about it I actually like the ending. You don’t know all the answers but you feel closure for the characters.
I enthusiastically recommend this book.
Overall this was a good audio presentation. The narrator carried off the French language nuances well, but also played a perfect character that doesn’t completely grasp the language. The only time that the audio presented a problem for me that I don’t think would have been an issue in physical form was sometimes a chapter would begin with a flashback and I would be lost as to when we were. I couldn’t always tell past from present.
Author Bobbie Ann Mason has written a couple other fiction books such as In Country (about the Vietnam War), Feather Crowns (about a woman in 1900 giving birth to quintuplets) and Nancy Culpepper (a story of finding your roots) as well as a memoir and some non-fiction. You can visit the author’s website for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?
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