Summary and book reviews of A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

A Woman of No Importance

The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

by Sonia Purnell

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell X
A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2019, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2020, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Book Summary

The never-before-told story of Virginia Hall, the American spy who changed the course of World War II, from the author of Clementine

in 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: "She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her." The target in their sights was Virginia Hall, a Baltimore socialite who talked her way into Special Operations Executive, the spy organization dubbed Winston Churchill's "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare." She became the first Allied woman deployed behind enemy lines and--despite her prosthetic leg--helped to light the flame of the French Resistance, revolutionizing secret warfare as we know it.

Virginia established vast spy networks throughout France, called weapons and explosives down from the skies, and became a linchpin for the Resistance. Even as her face covered wanted posters and a bounty was placed on her head, Virginia refused order after order to evacuate. She finally escaped through a death-defying hike over the Pyrenees into Spain, her cover blown. But she plunged back in, adamant that she had more lives to save, and led a victorious guerilla campaign, liberating swathes of France from the Nazis after D-Day.

Based on new and extensive research, Sonia Purnell has for the first time uncovered the full secret life of Virginia Hall--an astounding and inspiring story of heroism, spycraft, resistance, and personal triumph over shocking adversity. A Woman of No Importance is the breathtaking story of how one woman's fierce persistence helped win the war.

Prologue

France was falling. Burned‑out cars, once strapped high with treasured possessions, were nosed crazily into ditches. Their beloved cargoes of dolls, clocks, and mirrors lay smashed around them and along mile upon mile of unfriendly road. Their owners, young and old, sprawled across the hot dust, were groaning or already silent. Yet the hordes just kept streaming past them, a never‑ending line of hunger and exhaustion too fearful to stop for days on end.

Ten million women, children, and old men were on the move, all fleeing Hitler's tanks pouring across the border from the east and the north. Entire cities had uprooted themselves in a futile bid to escape the Nazi blitzkrieg that threatened to engulf them. The fevered talk was of German soldiers stripped to the waist in jubilation at the ease of their conquest. The air was thick with smoke and the stench of the dead. The babies had no milk, and the aged fell where they stood. The horses drawing overladen old farm ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. A charismatic woman of great intelligence and resourcefulness, Virginia Hall is an inspiration from the very first page of A Woman of No Importance. She clearly had a similar magnetic pull in person, drawing people from all walks of life to stand for freedom, their country, and the Allied effort, often at great peril to their families and themselves.

    Did the book change your ideas about what one person can accomplish? In what ways did her grit and courage inspire you?
  2. Since birth, Virginia was expected to marry well and become a society wife; instead, she chose a male-dominated career path in which she constantly found herself either underestimated or overlooked, even after the end of her illustrious war career. Do you feel like ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Virginia Hall is largely unknown in the annals of history, but her World War II accomplishments were magnificent. A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of How an American Spy Won World War II lovingly bestows upon Virginia Hall the notoriety and acclaim she rightly deserves. Lovingly bestows upon Virginia Hall the notoriety and acclaim she rightly deserves. Page after page, Sonia Purnell delivers a breathless and breathtaking thriller...continued

Full Review (804 words).

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(Reviewed by Valerie Morales).

Media Reviews

NPR
A compelling biography of a masterful spy, and a reminder of what can be done with a few brave people -- and a little resistance.

USA Today, Five Books to Read This Week
An incredible story of under-appreciated heroism.

New York Times
If Virginia Hall herself remains something of an enigma — a testament, perhaps, to the skills that allowed her to live in the shadows for so long — the extraordinary facts of her life are brought onto the page here with a well-judged balance of empathy and fine detail. This book is as riveting as any thriller, and as hard to put down.

Publishers Weekly
Purnell vividly resurrects an underappreciated hero and delivers an enthralling story of wartime intrigue…fans of WWII history and women's history will be riveted.

Kirkus Reviews
Meticulous research results in a significant biography of a trailblazer who now has a CIA building named after her.

Booklist (starred review)
Purnell's writing is as precise and engaging as her research, and this book restores overdue attention to one of the world's great war heroes. It's a joy to read, and it will swell readers' hearts with pride.

Author Blurb Clare Mulley, author of The Women Who Flew for Hitler: A True Story of Soaring Ambition and Searing Rivalry
Impressively researched and compellingly written, this brilliant biography puts Virginia Hall-and her prosthetic leg, Cuthbert-back where they belong: right in the heart of Resistance history

Author Blurb Sarah Helm, author of Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women
In this astonishing, intriguing book, Sonia Purnell presents one of the most breathtaking stories yet told of female courage behind enemy lines. Its strength lies not only in Purnell's intimate and moving portrayal of Virginia's secret work, but also in the new light shed on the betrayal, bravery, and bungling of Churchill's Special Operations Executive for which Virginia worked.

Author Blurb Douglas Waller, author of Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster Who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage
What a fascinating story! Sonia Purnell skillfully takes you deep into the covert operations Virginia Hall led in Nazi-occupied France. Readers will find this tale of her cunning and courage riveting.

Reader Reviews

CarolT

Mesmerizing
Almost reads like a novel.

Irving Presser

VIRGINIA HALL
Sonia Purnell has written a masterpiece of a book about an American Spy in WW2 called "A Woman of No Importance," A must read for anyone interested in World War 2, and the American spy who helped win the war. Until now most people never of...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Women Spies Who Changed WWII

For a wide array of reasons, the Allied countries recruited many women as spies in WWII. Their first advantage was they could blend in more easily than their male counterparts in the civilian population of a typical town or village. But there was also a growing sense that women were more skilled at being secretive, coy, and courageous. Women rarely spilled secrets via pillow talk, nor were they drunken loudmouths. Their empathy was a plus. They were asked to handle the ground war and deal with volunteer civilians who would naturally come to them when frustrations piled up.

Who were some of these women and what did they accomplish?

Nancy WakeLike Virginia Hall, Nancy Grace Augusta Wake came from affluence. She was happily married in Marseille ...

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  • Unbreakable jacket

    Unbreakable

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    About this book

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