Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein

Note: This is one of those books that you KNOW you know (so the synopsis is almost redundant). Also, no updates for a while since I recently got my wisdom teeth extracted, ahh! 

Synopsis

Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

A Michael L. Printz Award Honor book that was called “a fiendishly-plotted mind game of a novel” in The New York Times, Code Name Verity is a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other.

Review

THIS IS REVISIONISM. Moreover, this is a prime example of historical fiction done right.

I’m definitely jumping on the Code Name Verity train a little late. Even while reading the story, it took me a long time to actually like it. The first part was kind of confusing because I didn’t know the technical terms (or even that much about WWII, for that matter). But “Part II: Kittyhawk” came around, and I got it. I understood the hype, I understood the story, and I understood the feelings.

Historical fiction is meant to make you see things in a new perspective. It brings an emotional human connection to stats and statistics. My initial reaction (after part I) was that I couldn’t access those emotions. The story was too factual, almost reading like a textbook account. I don’t want to discount the fact that Wein did a splendid job of doing her research. So many writers don’t know their facts. Naturally, through her personal experiences, all the aircraft knowledge appeared confident and assured. And while there were a couple of odd choices, her French was plausible as things people would actually say. No Google-translated material here! After reading the afterword, I’m sure the other factual aspects were similarly precise. The devil is in the details, and that is where Wein is head and shoulders above many.

The second part is what makes the story shine. Aside from a factual account, it brings humanity and life to the story. It also highlights the necessity of revisionist history. Imagine if a historian stumbled upon an account like Julie’s on its own. That is one tiny sliver of the story. There are so many other sides, as evidenced by Maddie’s account. Imagine if we had Engel’s point of view or Paul’s, or even Van Linden’s. The whole story would be different. When looking at historical accounts and historical artifacts, we DON’T have all the fragments of the story. We barely have a snapshot. With each new piece, we have to figure out how it fits with the history we’ve painted as the truth. Heaven forbid we take people’s words simply because they insist they have told the truth.

Aside from geeking out on the historical and factual aspects, the story itself wasn’t all that great to me. It told a tale of true friendship and morality in a wartime world. Still, it was veritably good (although perhaps not as mindblowing as others make it out to be. I suppose my expectations were a tad too high).

Related Reading

  • Rose Under Fire – Elizabeth Wein (duh)
  • The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (duh x2)
  • The Help – Kathryn Stockett (history vs HERstory)
  • The History of Love – Nicole Krauss
  • Bell Epoque – Elizabeth Ross

Rating: 4/5 

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