Madame Fourcade's secret war The daring young woman who led France's largest spy network against Hitler

Lynne Olson

Book - 2019

"The little-known story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, the woman who headed the largest spy network in occupied France during World War II ... In 1941 a thirty-one-year-old Frenchwoman, a young mother born to privilege and known for her beauty and glamour, became the leader of a vast intelligence organization--the only woman to serve as a chef de résistance during the war. Strong-willed, independent, and a lifelong rebel against her country's conservative, patriarchal society, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was temperamentally made for the job. Her group's name was Alliance, but the Gestapo dubbed it Noah's Ark because its agents used the names of animals as their aliases. The name Marie-Madeleine chose for herself was Hedgehog...: a tough little animal, unthreatening in appearance, that, as a colleague of hers put it, 'even a lion would hesitate to bite.' No other French spy network lasted as long or supplied as much crucial intelligence--including providing American and British military commanders with a 55-foot-long map of the beaches and roads on which the Allies would land on D-Day--as Alliance. The Gestapo pursued them relentlessly, capturing, torturing, and executing hundreds of its three thousand agents, including Fourcade's own lover and many of her key spies. Although Fourcade, the mother of two young children, moved her headquarters every few weeks, constantly changing her hair color, clothing, and identity, she was captured twice by the Nazis. Both times she managed to escape--once by slipping naked through the bars of her jail cell--and continued to hold her network together even as it repeatedly threatened to crumble around her. Now, in this dramatic account of the war that split France in two and forced its people to live side by side with their hated German occupiers, Lynne Olson tells the fascinating story of a woman who stood up for her nation, her fellow citizens, and herself."--Dust jacket.

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New York : Random House [2019]
Main Author
Lynne Olson (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xxiv, 428 pages : illustrations, maps, portraits ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages [387]-405) and index.
  • 1936-1942. Leaping into the unknown ; The chaos of defeat ; Fighting back ; Spying in Marseille ; The birth of Alliance ; Danger in Paris ; Taking command ; A network in peril ; The mailbag ; The return of Léon Faye ; A game of wits ; "An undisputed leader" ; "Sitting on a barrel of gunpowder" ; The traitor ; A general escapes ; Captured ; Operation Attila ; "Down go the U-boats"
  • 1943-1944. On the run ; The tinderbox of Lyon ; High anxiety ; "Here you are at last!" ; "The most remarkable girl of her generation" ; Pink heather ; Calamity ; Captives ; The map ; Going home
  • 1944-1945. Caught in the net ; Liberation and beyond ; "Hail Mary, full of grace" ; The road to Gethsemane.
Review by Choice Review

Every so often a history book comes along that tells a riveting story--"reads like a novel" is the customary praise--significantly expands knowledge of the past, and compels one to rethink the historiography of its narrative. Such a triumph is Olson's Madame Fourcade's Secret War, an account of France's largest espionage network during the Occupation and the elegant, beautiful, 31-year-old Marie-Madeleine Fourcade (1909--89) who led it. In the face of the Nazis' suffocating surveillance and savage reprisals--some 450 members of the Resistance network Fourcade led were executed--Fourcade's agents garnered intelligence that helped win the U-boat war, assisted in planning the D-Day invasion, and provided information on the German ballistic missile program that allowed the Allies to forestall its development until the second front was secure. Fourcade's work has been too long ignored: her story fell victim to competition over control of the historical narrative about the Resistance on the parts of the communists, de Gaulle's Free French, and the Maquisards. In addition, Fourcade's background, her practical feminism, and her alignment with British intelligence ensured her story was downplayed after the war; her memoir, L'Arche de Noé (1968; Eng. tr., Noah's Ark, CH, May'74), was for the most part ignored. Bottom line: Olson's book is important as well as captivating. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. --Gary P. Cox, emeritus, Gordon State College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review

GINGERBREAD, by Helen Oyeyemi. (Riverhead, $27.) For her new novel - a meditation on family and what it means to be part of a community - Oyeyemi has taken old fairy tales, seasoned them with 20th-century history and pop-culture references, and frosted them with whimsical detail. I.M.: A Memoir, by Isaac Mizrahi. (Flatiron, $28.99.) Throughout this autobiography by one of America's most acclaimed designers of the 1990s, his innovation and confidence are evident, contrasting with an industry that, despite its superficial fickleness, can be deeply resistant to change. TRUTH IN OUR TIMES: Inside the Fight for Press Freedom in the Age of Alternative Facts, by David E. McCraw. (All Points, $28.99.) McCraw, the deputy general counsel of The Times, leads readers through some of his most memorable cases, particularly those involving Donald Trump. He expresses concern about the crisis of public trust, stating that "the law can do only so much." MADAME FOURCADE'S SECRET WAR: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler, by Lynne Olson. (Random House, $30.) Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who fought the Nazis while enduring sexism in her ranks, is little remembered today. Olson argues that she should be celebrated. INSTRUCTIONS FOR A FUNERAL: Stories, by David Means. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) Means's fifth collection, populated with adulterers and criminals, railroad bums and other castaways, suggests that beneath every act of violence there pulses a vein of grace. GOOD WILL COME FROM THE SEA, by Christos Ikonomou. Translated by Karen Emmerich. (Archipelago, paper, $18.) This collection of linked stories, set on an unnamed Aegean island and featuring a cast of wry, rough-talking Greeks reeling from the country's economic devastation, showcases Ikonomou's wit, compassion and infallible ear for the demotic. OUTSIDERS: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World, by Lyndall Gordon. (Johns Hopkins University, $29.95.) Gordon links five visionaries who made literary history - George Eliot, Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte, Olive Schreiner and Virginia Woolf - through their shared understanding of death and violence. THE TWICE-BORN: Life and Death on the Ganges, by Aatish Taseer. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Attempting to rediscover his traditional Indian roots through the study of Sanskrit, a journalist finds himself alienated from them. HOUSE OF STONE, by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma. (Norton, $26.95.) This ambitious and ingenious first novel uses a young man's search for his personal ancestry as a way of unearthing hidden aspects of Zimbabwe's violent past. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web:

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [March 24, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review

Olson, who in Last Hope Island and Citizens of London (2017) mined lesser-known world-war history to great effect, has penned the incredibly absorbing and long-overdue chronicle of the exploits and accomplishments of French Resistance hero Mme Marie Madeleine Fourcarde, code-named Hedgehog. A seemingly unlikely freedom fighter, Mme Fourcarde, a glamorous, well-heeled young mother, used her image to her advantage as she joined and eventually directed a group known as Alliance (dubbed Noah's Ark by frustrated Nazi agents), one of the most successful intelligence gathering units operating in France. Organizing a cadre of spies that numbered in the thousands, she successfully befuddled the Gestapo by constantly switching headquarters, strategically restructuring her network, and cleverly changing her own appearance. Captured twice, she managed daring escapes each time and continued to provide the Allies with invaluable information, including critical D-Day logistics. After the war, she worked tirelessly on behalf of both her fallen and her surviving wartime colleagues. This masterfully told true story reads like fiction and will appeal to readers who devour WWII thrillers à la Kristen Hannah's The Nightingale (2015).--Margaret Flanagan Copyright 2019 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Historian and journalist Olson (Last Hope Island) vivifies the history of the French Resistance during WWII with a brilliant, cinematic biography of resistance leader Marie-Madeleine Fourcade. As Olson recounts, Fourcade was 31 in 1941, a mother of two by her long-estranged husband, wealthy, beautiful, and temperamentally born to lead. She was recruited to the Resistance by Georges Loustaunau-Lacau, who founded the Alliance intelligence network in 1940 and passed leadership to Fourcade in 1941. She organized, recruited, trained, raised funds (principally from England's MI6), hid, changed identities as often as she dyed her hair, and suffered arrest and torture by Nazis. She loved fellow agent Léon Faye and bore his son in the middle of WWII, and recorded her experiences, including bonds with fellow spies, in her diary: "The connection formed by a threat to one's country is the strongest connection of all." Olson's weaving of Fourcade's diary artfully and liberally into her own writing and her heart-stopping descriptions of Paris, escapes, and internecine warring create a narrative that's as dramatic as a novel or a film. Olson honors Fourcade's fight for freedom and her "refusal to be silenced" with a gripping narrative that will thrill WWII history buffs. Illus. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Expanding her earlier works on World War II history, Olson (Last Hope Island) here highlights the wartime efforts of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, who led one of the largest and most effective spy networks for the French Resistance. The book begins in 1936 and follows Fourcade through the war and beyond, when she worked to have the agents' sacrifices recognized by the French government to ensure they-or their family members-received benefits for their service. Though not covered with the same depth as Fourcade's activities, the experiences of several key members in her Resistance cell are also chronicled, fleshing out the larger scope of this group. The organizational genius of Fourcade shines through tales of her cat-and-mouse game with the Gestapo, including multiple daring escapes from Nazi captivity. VERDICT As well researched and engrossing as her previous books, showcasing her adroit ability to weave personal narratives, political intrigue, and wartime developments to tell a riveting story, Olson's latest is highly recommended to readers interested in World War II, the history of espionage, women's history, and European history.-Crystal Goldman, Univ. of California, San Diego Lib. © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

How one Frenchwoman's spy network helped win the war against the Nazis.Marie-Madeleine Fourcade (1909-1989) was raised in a well-to-do French family, but she was extremely independent for her time and refused to comply with the unstated rules of proper feminine behavior. "All her life," writes Olson (Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War, 2017, etc.), "she rebelled against the norms of France's deeply conservative, patriarchal society." When she was approached to work with an espionage group to help the Allies before the onset of World War II, she accepted the position with little hesitation. Following this life-changing decision, she became the eventual leader of the group known as "Alliance," a vast network of spies and radio operators who worked all over France. In a comprehensive, often exciting narrative, the author chronicles the actions of Fourcade and Alliance from 1936 to 1945. Her use of quotes and solid descriptive passages help re-create the tension and anxiety Fourcade and her friends felt as they risked everything to save France. Olson also effectively integrates a thorough history of the role of the Vichy government during this time as well as details on how MI6 and the Allies used the information Alliance collected to change the course of the war. She shares specifics on many of the agents under Fourcade's control, their daring exploits and escapes, and what happened to those captured by the Germans. With the same attention to detail, Olson writes about Fourcade's secret lover and her children. Although the text is overlong, the author brings into the spotlight a woman whose courage and endurance helped shape history yet whose full story had not yet been told. "For several decades following the war," writes the author, "histories of the French resistance, which were written almost exclusively by men, largely ignored the contributions of women." Olson rectifies that omission.An engaging, informative addition to World War II history. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Chapter 1 Leaping into the Unknown Her sister's drawing room was already crowded when Marie-Madeleine Fourcade arrived. In one corner, Georges, her brother-in-law, was deep in discussion with a cluster of male guests. Spotting her sister in another corner, Marie-Madeleine crossed the room to join her. Yvonne introduced her to several women, who, after acknowledging the newcomer, returned to their conversation about children, their latest travels, and their incessant problems with servants. At one point, between sips of tea, a small, birdlike woman named Yvonne de Gaulle held forth on the soothing virtues of the countryside and how important it was to have a house in the country where a busy man like her husband could find a quiet refuge. Her attention wandering, Marie-Madeleine glanced around the room. She recognized several of the men--a number of them military officers like Georges, along with a scattering of diplomats, journalists, and business leaders. Ever since she'd returned to Paris, her sister and brother-in-law had included her in their circle of influential friends, many of whom frequented the lively late-afternoon salon that the couple had established at their apartment on rue Vaneau, not far from the French capital's government ministries and embassies. She caught the eye of Georges, who beckoned to her. As she joined the group around him, she was aware of the appreciative glances directed her way. Cool and elegant, with porcelain skin and high cheekbones, the twenty-six-year-old blonde was used to being the object of male scrutiny. After introducing her to a couple of guests she had not yet met, Georges mentioned her passion for cars and fast driving and boasted about her success in a recent long-distance car rally. For a minute or two, she and the others debated the merits of various cars, including the speedy model she owned--a Citroën Traction Avant. But the conversation soon returned to the subject that had preoccupied the men from the moment they had arrived that afternoon: Nazi Germany's shocking occupation of the demilitarized Rhineland just a few weeks before. On March 7, 1936, German troops had marched into the Rhineland, a strip of western Germany straddling the Rhine River and bordering France, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands. After Germany's defeat in World War I, the area had been declared a buffer zone, and a ban had been imposed on any installation there of German forces or fortifications. Adolf Hitler's defiance of the ban was his most flagrant violation to date of the 1919 Versailles Treaty and his most dramatic challenge thus far to the Western allies Britain and France. If either country had responded with force, Hitler's troops, as he later acknowledged, would have retreated immediately. But neither the British nor French lifted a finger to stop the incursion--a failure that appalled those at Georges and Yvonne's salon on that lovely April afternoon. Several of the guests were army intelligence officers, who, for the last three years, had been providing information to the French government detailing Hitler's mounting preparations for war. Indeed, in the past few months they had passed on advance intelligence of the Rhineland incursion itself. To all these warnings, government officials and the top military command had paid little heed. The top brass were equally indifferent to increasingly urgent calls by some of their underlings for the modernization and reform of the French military. As one observer later put it, "The minds of the French generals had ground to a halt and were already thickly coated with rust." In their preparations for a future war, members of the high command remained committed to the kind of defensive warfare that had eventually brought the Allies, at an extremely high cost, a victory in World War I. They paid little or no attention to the swift technological advances in the development of such offensive weapons as planes and tanks. They also went out of their way to block the advancement of younger, more vigorous officers who preached the need for a revolution in military tactics and strategy. Two of the most prominent members of that younger group--Lieutenant Colonel Charles de Gaulle and Major Georges Loustaunau-Lacau--took center stage in the discussion on rue Vaneau, engaging in a debate that quickly escalated into a full-blown argument. It soon became obvious to Marie-Madeleine that the two officers viewed each other as rivals, which, considering how much they had in common, was perhaps not surprising. They both were products of Saint-Cyr, France's foremost military academy, and the elite École Supérieure de Guerre, the country's graduate war college. Both had fought in World War I, been wounded, and received multiple citations for bravery. After the war, they had served at different times on the staff of Marshal Philippe Pétain, the hero of the Battle of Verdun, who had held several key postwar posts--commander in chief of the army, inspector general, and minister of war. The forty-five-year-old de Gaulle and the forty-two-year-old Loustaunau-Lacau were brilliant, ambitious, and egocentric, with a rebellious streak that had gotten them in considerable trouble at various times with Pétain and other military superiors. Each loved the spotlight, and neither wanted to share it with the other. After Germany occupied the Rhineland, de Gaulle had submitted an article predicting its disastrous consequences to the influential journal Défense Nationale, which refused to publish it. Now, leaning against the apartment's fireplace mantel, he criticized the high command's tactical and strategic ineptness, blasting its reliance on prepared fortifications like the Maginot Line and arguing for creation of a fast-moving mechanized army working closely with and supported by aircraft. Loustaunau-Lacau interrupted, dismissing de Gaulle's idea of a strike force as unworkable. As they argued, they seemed to agree on only one point: If the French military were not immediately reshaped, the army would collapse, and the country would be crushed by Germany in a war that was drawing ever closer. Fascinated by the verbal fireworks between them, Fourcade had no idea of the profound impact that both men would soon have on her life. Excerpted from Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler by Lynne Olson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.