The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason

An ex-aviator revisits the horrors and hardships of Nazi-occupied France years later, meets some of his benefactors, and finds out how the war changed others.

The girl of the title is Annette – a teenager in 1944 who with her family shuttles a number of downed American airmen through their home in Paris as a kind of way station on an intended trek across war-torn France to the Spanish border.  Marshall Stone is one of these – a survivor of a wrecked bomber in Belgium who sees some of his crew members die and others disappear to uncertain fates.  He and others are spirited away by French resistance workers who live mundane lives but do heroic things very quietly. 

The Girl in the Blue Beret takes place in the early 1980s when Marshall is given his retirement by the airline and winds up back in Paris determined to meet as many of his war-time helpers as he can, and to start a new life in a France startlingly different from his previous existence there.

Marshall unearths pain, frustration, and shame as he digs through his and other peoples’ memories of the war and occupation.  He also finds love, and a genuine regard for the French and their culture. 

I’d read Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country years ago and liked that book.  I wasn’t sure, with the subject matter, how she would handle this one, but she handles it just fine – The Girl in the Blue Beret is highly readable.  Mason apparently based the character of Marshall loosely on her own father-in-law, who flew in World War II.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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