Code Name Hélène – Ariel Lawhon | A Brief Book Review

Told in interweaving timelines organized around the four code names Nancy used during the war, Code Name Hélène is a spellbinding and moving story of enduring love, remarkable sacrifice and unfaltering resolve that chronicles the true exploits of a woman who deserves to be a household name.
It is 1936 and Nancy Wake is an intrepid Australian expat living in Paris who has bluffed her way into a reporting job for Hearst newspaper when she meets the wealthy French industrialist Henri Fiocca. No sooner does Henri sweep Nancy off her feet and convince her to become Mrs. Fiocca than the Germans invade France and she takes yet another name: a code name.

As Lucienne Carlier Nancy smuggles people and documents across the border. Her success and her remarkable ability to evade capture earns her the nickname The White Mouse from the Gestapo. With a five million franc bounty on her head, Nancy is forced to escape France and leave Henri behind. When she enters training with the Special Operations Executives in Britain, her new comrades are instructed to call her Hélène. And finally, with mission in hand, Nancy is airdropped back into France as the deadly Madam André, where she claims her place as one of the most powerful leaders in the French Resistance, armed with a ferocious wit, her signature red lipstick, and the ability to summon weapons straight from the Allied Forces. 

But no one can protect Nancy if the enemy finds out these four women are one and the same, and the closer to liberation France gets, the more exposed she–and the people she loves–become.

Published: March 2020 | Add On: Goodreads or TheStoryGraph

Every time that I decide that I am (close to being) through with novels set during WWII, I discover an exceptional book that happens to be set during the Second World War. This is precisely what happened with Code Name Hélène.

I am slightly ashamed to admit that before reading Code Name Hélène I had never heard of Nancy Wake. Lawhon’s version of this remarkable, real woman is a force to be reckoned with: a strong woman known for her bright lipstick, confidence, use of strong language and leadership. Nancy had me hooked from the first chapter and I absolutely loved watching her grow throughout the story.

I found Lawhon’s portrayal of Nancy Wake to be wonderfully human. Nancy’s grief, passion and love brought her to life. Little details, such as Nancy’s strong distaste for throwing up, the fact that she didn’t learn to ride a bike until she was an adult and her use of lipstick as armor, played a large role in this endeavor and I am quite glad that Lawhon included them.

Code Name Hélène impeccably alternates between two periods of Nancy’s life. Through the first timeline we watch her and Henri’s relationship deepen into marriage, followed by his service in the war and her stint as an ambulance driver. The second follows Nancy’s work in France with the French Resistance – encompassing quite a bit of fighting, horrifying descriptions of torture and small amounts of true bravery.

I found Lawhon’s writing to be interesting and clear, it was not what hooked me, but it certainly was not a negative element of the book.

One of the things that was on my mind as I finished Code Name Hélène was the portrayal of marriage within its pages. For once I did not mind the romantic focus in a historical fiction novel. It made me reflect upon the real lack of books that feature couples who are both passionately in love with each other and married. So often we as readers get to watch characters fall in love – maybe get engaged or just start dating – but rarely do we get to see them experience actual marriage, with its beauty and challenges.

All in all, Code Name Hélène is a book I am glad that I stumbled upon and one that I would heartly recommend to my older readers.

NOTE: I would not recommend this book to any tweens or, truly, many teens. The intensity of violence was jarring and incredibly vivid, as well as the presence of strong language and sexual content.

Have you read Code Name Hélène? Any thoughts to share? What have you been watching/listening to/ reading lately?

3 thoughts on “Code Name Hélène – Ariel Lawhon | A Brief Book Review”

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