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A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II
by Sonia Purnell

Published: 2019-04-09
Hardcover : 368 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 2 of 4 members

“Excellent…This book is as riveting as any thriller, and as hard to put down.” -- The New York Times Book Review

"A compelling biography of a masterful spy, and a reminder of what can be done with a few brave people -- and a little resistance." - NPR

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“Excellent…This book is as riveting as any thriller, and as hard to put down.” -- The New York Times Book Review

"A compelling biography of a masterful spy, and a reminder of what can be done with a few brave people -- and a little resistance." - NPR

The never-before-told story of Virginia Hall, the American spy who changed the course of World War II, from the author of Clementine

In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: "She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her."

The target in their sights was Virginia Hall, a Baltimore socialite who talked her way into Special Operations Executive, the spy organization dubbed Winston Churchill's "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare." She became the first Allied woman deployed behind enemy lines and--despite her prosthetic leg--helped to light the flame of the French Resistance, revolutionizing secret warfare as we know it.

Virginia established vast spy networks throughout France, called weapons and explosives down from the skies, and became a linchpin for the Resistance. Even as her face covered wanted posters and a bounty was placed on her head, Virginia refused order after order to evacuate. She finally escaped through a death-defying hike over the Pyrenees into Spain, her cover blown. But she plunged back in, adamant that she had more lives to save, and led a victorious guerilla campaign, liberating swathes of France from the Nazis after D-Day.

Based on new and extensive research, Sonia Purnell has for the first time uncovered the full secret life of Virginia Hall--an astounding and inspiring story of heroism, spycraft, resistance, and personal triumph over shocking adversity. A Woman of No Importance is the breathtaking story of how one woman's fierce persistence helped win the war.

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of April 2019: In this fast-paced biography Sonia Purnell tells the story of Virginia Hall, an American spy who worked undercover in France during World War II for Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE). Hall’s story is a surprising one: she began her life in the United States with a mother who wished for the perfect debutante. Hall, however, was more comfortable studying languages, and found herself living abroad and working for the State Department when she lost half her leg in a hunting accident. This setback didn’t slow down Hall at all: she named her wooden prosthetic Cuthbert, drove ambulances in France, and was recruited by a recently formed SOE as a spy in occupied France. Hall posed as a newspaper reporter, enlisting civilians for the French Resistance and establishing an underground network of allies and becoming one of the most important spies during World War II. Purnell does an amazing job bringing Hall’s exploits to life and has crafted a gripping and cinematic biography for an unsung hero of wartime espionage. --Alison Walker


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Discussion Questions

1. Sonia Purcell describes Virginia Hall's resistance work during World War II as "a Homeric tale of adventure, action and seemingly unfathomable courage." How would you describe Hall? What was it about her personality and inner character that attracted her to spy-craft—and what made her so adept at its practice?

2. Consider the danger involved involved in undercover operations—a field in which its participants are at high risk for capture, torture, and death. What drives people, both men and women, to take such dire risks and to play the high-stakes game of cat and mouse?

3. Purnell observers, "Dispatching a one-legged thirty-five-year-old desk clerk on a blind mission into France was, on paper, an almost insane gamble." Almost insane? What was their thinking?

4. Talk about the good-old-boy office politics underlying some of the decisions to place under trained personnel in the field, and some of the fatalities those decisions led to.

5. It's almost as if Hall had a sixth sense, which repeatedly kept her out of the Nazis' clutches. Talk about her use of disguises, her ability to build trust across borders, her sudden appearances and just as sudden disappearances. What are some of the close calls in which she escaped capture? Do some episodes stand out more than others—in terms as being more daring, more thrilling, or more anxiety-drenching?

6. Discuss the many other individuals involved in the resistance network, those doing extraordinary work. Consider, for instance, Germaine Guerin. Or perhaps the woman who simply asks for three aspirins at a cafe.

7. What about Hall's post-war life in which she had to fight another type of tyranny: sexism? Discuss the offer of a low-level clerkship at the CIA despite Hall's brilliant performance in the field. Or recall the man who referred to Hall as a "gung-ho lady left over from OSS days overseas." Talk about the other women who made untold (literally) sacrifices for the Allied forces during the war.

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by Michelle H. (see profile) 01/26/24

by Autumn R. (see profile) 01/19/24

by Merry H. (see profile) 12/09/22

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by Jill K. (see profile) 08/20/20

  "Love the Character, not the book"by Lory S. (see profile) 06/27/20

Sooo I have struggled with rating this book. The content and knowledge of Virginia Hall's role in WWII was interesting but the presentation left a lot to be desired. Virginia Hall's courageousness and... (read more)

by Damarys P. (see profile) 06/12/20

by Julie C. (see profile) 06/11/20

by Angie M. (see profile) 03/14/20

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