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A Woman of No Importance

Sometimes you read about someone that has just had such a full-on life that you feel a bit inferior. Well, Virginia Hall did that for me in this book.  


I’d never heard of Virginia Hall, and I am pretty sure I would have found her hard work if I had met her, but I certainly would have been enthralled if I had sat at a dinner table and heard her story. Not that Virginia would have talked about her experiences being the top female spy master in France during the Nazi occupation.


Born in 1906, in Baltimore, Virginia was instrumental in establishing the French resistance network during WW2.


Biographer Sonia Purcell captures so well how a young lady from a well to do family in America transitions to a war hardened, operational leader at the coal face constantly staying one step ahead of Nazis determined to track her down.


In her 20’s whilst aboard, Virginia witnessed the rise in popularity of Adolf Hitler's National Socialism in Europe. Determined to become a US State Department diplomat she was rebuffed time and time again. Secretarial roles offered her overseas postings first in Warsaw and then in Turkey. 


Many people would have given up at the blow that Virginia suffered in Turkey – a shotgun accident saw her loose part of her leg. For the rest of her life this extraordinary woman would live with a wooden leg.


Following her recovery and rehabilitation, Virginia goes on to convince the British secret service (yes, the British…) to send her into France solo and light the flames of resistance in Vichy France.


Sonia Purnell’s biography of Virginia’s life is well written, informative, and well-paced.  At over 380 pages it could appear long, but I was caught up in the story of an women overcoming her own fears and with incredible determination.


I kept thinking about the type of person Virginia must have been to achieve what she did. Courageous, resilient, able to read people and maybe too determined for her own good, she also shines as exceptional and unique in what must have been terrifying times. I think readers will identify with her experiences.  


Her life was a rollercoaster which alternated between secret hard won achievements, long periods of fear, personal sacrifice, and courage, interspersed with disappointment and frustration at being a resourceful intelligent woman in a man’s world.

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