D-Day Girls: Book summary and reviews of D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose

D-Day Girls

The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II

by Sarah Rose

D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose X
D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose
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About this book

Book Summary

The dramatic, untold story of the extraordinary women recruited by Britain's elite spy agency to help pave the way for Allied victory.

In 1942, the Allies were losing, Germany seemed unstoppable, and every able man in England was fighting. Churchill believed Britain was locked in an existential battle and created a secret agency, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), whose spies were trained in everything from demolition to sharp-shooting. Their job, he declared, was "to set Europe ablaze!" But with most men on the frontlines, the SOE did something unprecedented: it recruited women. Thirty-nine women answered the call, leaving their lives and families to become saboteurs in France. Half were caught, and a third did not make it home alive.

In D-Day Girls, Sarah Rose draws on recently declassified files, diaries, and oral histories to tell the story of three of these women. There's Odette Sansom, a young mother who feels suffocated by domestic life and sees the war as her ticket out; Lise de Baissac, an unflappable aristocrat with the mind of a natural leader; and Andrée Borrel, the streetwise organizer of the Paris Resistance. Together, they derailed trains, blew up weapons caches, destroyed power and phone lines, and gathered crucial intelligence' - laying the groundwork for the D-Day invasion that proved to be the turning point in the war.

Stylishly written and rigorously researched, this is an inspiring story for our own moment of resistance, in which women continue to play a vital role.

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. The author opens the book with dialogue from Shakespeare's Henry VI. How did you interpret this quote prior to reading D-Day Girls? After finishing the book, did your interpretation of this quote change?
  2. Is there a person mentioned in D-Day Girls whom you relate to most strongly? Why?
  3. Initially some leaders of the Special Operations Executive took issue with the fact that Odette was born in France. She was "suspect by virtue of her birth" (page 10). Why do you think the SOE still ultimately sent her to war? Where do you see this kind of suspicious sentiment toward those we perceive as "others" in our world today?
  4. The adult women of the Special Operations Executive were frequently referred to in spoken and written communication as "girls." The author points out that although it may sound "uncomfortable to the modern ear" (page 301), this was common language for the time. Are you uncomfortable with the usage of the word "girls"? Why or why not?
  5. Why do you think that the author chose to focus most closely on Odette, Lise, and Andrée?
  6. According to the author, after going off to war "the Corps Féminins were never just on the job; they retained an identity as mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives—or ex-wives—even behind enemy lines" (page 83). Is this ability to retain civilian identities even while at war an asset?
  7. Do you feel that the Special Operations Executive, FANY, and other similar organizations that gave women a hands-on role in WWII were progressive for their time? Why or why not?
  8. During the war, the French developed a new word—dépaysement—for their wartime sense of "not feeling at home" (page 136). Have you ever felt dépaysement in your life? In our modern world, does this word resonate?
  9. The war stories of these female spies were kept under wraps as classified information until very recently. What was the purpose of this? Why do you feel that World War II history has largely hidden the roles women took on in the war?
  10. What do you think is gained in our understanding of the war and the world in general by discussing the untold narratives of women such as Lise, Odette, and Andrée?

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Thoroughly researched and written as smoothly as a good thriller, this is a mesmerizing story of creativity, perseverance, and astonishing heroism." - Publishers Weekly

"Rose delivers a swift moving... expert blow-by-blow account.... A readable spy thriller that fights against the idea of 'the original sin of women at war.'" - Kirkus Reviews

"Gripping, queasily so: Spies, romance, Gestapo thugs, blown-up trains, courage, and treachery (lots of treachery)' - and all of it true, all precisely documented. Sarah Rose leaves you marveling at the sheer courage shown by these women of Churchill's Special Operations Executive, who risked all to fight the Nazis and help prepare the way for D-Day." - Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City and Dead Wake

"Sarah Rose's edge-of-the-seat spy thriller weaves the incredible stories of World War II's forgotten heroines' - daring, modern, and key to defeating the Nazis in France. Brilliantly researched and gorgeously written' - with a cameo from Winston Churchill' - this is the D-Day book the world has been waiting for." - Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City and Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

"Sarah Rose has worked wonders to provide a fresh, thrilling account of the female spies whose courage and audacity helped win the day on June 6, 1944." - Alex Kershaw, author of The Bedford Boys and Avenue of Spies

"The mission is this: Read D-Day Girls today. Not just for the spy flair' - code names, aliases, and operating covers' - but also because this history feels more relevant than ever, as an army of women and girls again find themselves in a fight for the common good." - Lily Koppel, author of The Astronaut Wives Club

"Sarah Rose's D-Day Girls is not only an edge-of-your-seat World War II thriller that reads like fiction, it's a highly relevant read that will, at long last, inscribe the names of three remarkable female spies' - Andrée Borrel, Odette Sansom, Lise de Baissac' - into our history books." - Susannah Cahalan, author of Brain on Fire

The information about D-Day Girls shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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Julia A. (New York, NY)

A Gift to Those Interested in History
D-Day Girls, described on the cover as being about the spies who armed the resistance, sabotaged the Nazis, and helped win World War II is a remarkable book. By profiling five women and four men, giving details of their exploits in France during the war as well as their personal lives, Sarah Rose makes the reader genuinely care about these brave spies who contributed so much to the Allied efforts in the war, particularly in the period leading up to the invasion at Normandy. I found myself admiring the characters, and wishing that what they, especially the women, did during the war hadn't had to remain classified until 2003. If it had been known in specific ways just how valuable women were to the war efforts and if they had been allowed to remain in responsible professional position after the war, instead of being relegated back to the shadows, how different might the struggle for equal rights for women have been?

In any event, Sarah Rose has done a great service for people everywhere by bringing to light the history of these brave women (and men) today. Her book is meticulously researched, while at the same time being completely readable. I would say it is a "must read" for anyone interested in the history of World War II, and for anyone interested in women's history.

Joe S. (Port Orange, FL)

Very well researched and very enjoyable.
"D-Day Girls" is a very well written book. It tells the stories of the women members of the British Special Operations Executive during World War II and the undercover operations in preparation for the D-Day landings. As the author points out, the book is not fiction but is derived from the interviews and writings of those who survived the war. It is fascinating, educational, exciting,scary and very hard to put down. A very good book about very special people.

Erica M. (Chicago, IL)

Another take on WWII stories
Since my pre-teens, I have been drawn to stories about World War II. My father fought in it, as a young Jewish woman, it was part of my heritage and history. I often feel like there isn't another story that can be told that I haven't read. But there is - and that is D-Day Girls. It was a completely different twist on the stories of the War: the citizenry, the people who fought it, the conflicts between the conquerors and the defeated and how that got turned around. It was well-researched and well-written. Despite the rampant sexism that was practiced by the very people who were dependent on these women to do their jobs, it is a refreshing look at the women who made a difference in the War as something more than nurses or stenographers.

Rosanna H., contributing editor, Highlights

D-Day Girls: the forgotten female heroes of WW II
In 'D-Day Girls,' author Sarah Rose tells the forgotten story of women spies whose work was vital to winning World War II. These brave women, serving behind enemy lines in France, organized resistance networks, blew up German supply trains, gathered critical intelligence, and risked their lives every day.

Rose's account is well-researched and vivid, especially in the section on the D-Day invasion and the important role of these women in aiding the Allies' efforts. She also documents the rampant sexism that the female spies faced, in both England and France. The sexism persisted after the war, which meant the women often did not receive the recognition they deserved for their heroic acts.'D-Day Girls' tells the thrilling story of these forgotten heroes.

Jeanne W. (Colorado Springs, CO)

Long Overdue
A treasure trove of WWII-era documents was released several years ago, leading to some great books like this one. It's about time that women who served in such critical roles got their due. Rose's book concerns a handful of these women. Trained up like men, dropped behind enemy lines and responsible for radio transmitting, couriering and receiving and distributing caches of arms and materiel, these women deserve to be called heroes.

The book is sometimes frustrating because it seems to jump around a fair bit and I found myself flipping back and forth to figure out what was going on. To be fair, I think that's a natural problem in a non-fiction book where many documents may have been lost. Overall, this is a great book and even fiction readers will enjoy the exciting cloak and dagger exploits of these very brave women.

Joan R. (Chicago, IL)

An Extraordinary Story
This book engaged me from page one, immersing me into its world immediately. That world is WWII before D-Day as lived by a group of female undercover spies in France. Their stories border on unbelievable and yet...they are true. The author has meticulously researched her topic using first-hand sources and recently declassified material. Each woman and her story come to life as does the history of the period. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a thrilling, inspiring true story. It is by far one of the best books I've read this year.

...32 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Sarah Rose

Sarah Rose is the author of For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History. She has written for the Wall Street Journal, Outside, The Saturday Evening Post, and Men's Journal. In 2014, she was awarded a Lowell Thomas Prize in Travel Writing.

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