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Monday, August 8, 2011

The Girl in the Blue Beret

The Girl in the Blue Beret
Bobbie Ann Mason
Random House, 2011

Marshall Stone, an American World War II pilot shot down in Occupied Europe, returns to his crash site decades later and finds himself drawn back in time to the brave people who helped him escape from the Nazis.

Marshall became an airlines pilot after the war, but now that he’s been forced into retirement, he finds himself drifting and alone after his wife passed away. He’s never been close to his two children, perhaps due to the frequent and long absences as a pilot, or perhaps due to a distance he created around himself after the war. He now realizes that he never made an effort to be close to his children and he regrets this. Instead of bridging this gap, or maybe because of it, he goes to France in an attempt to retrace his steps after the plane crash and find the people who helped him. Once there, he is pleased to discover that several people are still alive and remember him, including Annette, who was a teenager during the war. As Marshall learns more about the terrible consequences his rescuers suffered at the German hands, he is shocked at his own youthful innocence and assumptions that his one life could be worth risking so many others.

The author switches back and forth in time between Marshall’s story as an escaped downed pilot and Marshall’s story as a retired widower, not always smoothly. I had trouble identifying with Marshall – although his thoughts are revealed, I found him as remote and distant with the reader as he was with his children. Honest communication seems difficult for him, which keeps him at arm’s length, and therefore difficult to understand. His motives for finding his past are vague and frivolous; basically, he had nothing better to do than go to Paris and stir up old memories from hurt and damaged people. I was also a little disturbed when he revealed that he had cheated on his wife several times and was only slightly remorseful about it. For some reason, this really bothered me and seemed out of character for him.

In retrospect, I would describe this book as reading like a nonfiction account of a true story that lacked the emotion and connection normally found in novels. I just couldn’t warm up to the main character or the events portrayed.


Other novels by this author:
In Country (1985)
An Atomic Romance (2005)

Other titles you may enjoy:

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian (2008)
During the final months of World War II, a small group of people make their way westward across a ravaged Europe in a desperate attempt to reach British and American lines.

Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks (1999)
A young Scottish woman who falls in love with a World War II RAF pilot shortly before his plane is lost over France joins the Resistance movement to find him, only to discover a larger meaning in her new role

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer (2010)
An unforgettable story of three brothers, of history and love, of marriage tested by disaster, of a Jewish family's struggle against annihilation, and of the dangerous power of art in a time of war.

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