Oct. 11, 1943 A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a shot 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. They'll get the truth out of her. But it won't be what they expect. 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 a merciless and ruthless enemy? Harrowing and beautifully written, Code Name Verity is the story of an unforgettable friendship forged in the face of the ultimate evil. From GoodReads.
Verity, a German and French speaking Scot who spies for the English, has been captured by the Gestapo. Tortured and interrogated by the enemy, Verity has promised a written confession which morphs into a moving tale of how she and her best friend Maddie met, became involved in the war effort and how Verity ultimately ended up in the hands of the Nazis.
Verity, her code name, is one of the greatest characters I have ever met. She is strong willed, determined and defiant in the face of great peril, courageous, funny, considerate, self-sacrificing in the best possible way, but above all she is human. It is her humanity that makes her the amazing character she is; so easy to love and identify with. Verity knows what happens to spies caught by the Nazis, and not just because they tell her exactly what they plan to do with her when they have extracted what they need.
Labelled a traitor and collaborator by her fellow inmates, Verity promises classified information in exchange for two weeks of peace from interrogation and torture. I really admired Elizabeth Wein for putting me in Veritys shoes. It could be easy for someone to condemn Verity for giving away secrets to the enemy, as her inmates do, yet when we are forced to witness Verity and her experiences, we must imagine what we would do in her situation. Forced to barter back the most essential items of clothing – her underwear, her warm jumper, her dress – in exchange for wireless code I can’t imagine that anyone could condemn her. Knowing that her execution is imminent, Verity allows men to touch her in exchange for paper and ink so that she can tell her story before she is executed.
Yet despite the cigarette burns, the beatings, the starvation, carbolic acid, the freezing and unsanitary holding cell, the sleep deprivation and the witnessed torture and beheadings of others, Verity keeps her twisted humour, remains defiant and as rebellious as she can get away with. She fights the guards, emotionally and psychologically disarms the interrogator and creates small difficulties for them. Yet it is her moments of weakness that blew me away. The moments where she breaks down in tears, acknowledges her fate and admits to her fear and feelings of desperation and hopelessness.
“I am no longer afraid of getting old. Indeed I can't believe I ever said anything so stupid. So childish. So offensive and arrogant.
But mainly, so very, very stupid. I desperately want to grow old.”
All of this is conveyed through Veritys written confession which is more of a chronology of her friendship with Maddie and so beautifully undermines her own part in this tale. It is this story that shows what a true master of craftsmanship Elizabeth Wein is. We study World War Two in strategic battles and the evil of the Nazis and lives lost. My own study of the war feels woefully inadequate – I didn’t know how the war ended until months after I “studied” it at school and I had no idea of the extent to which the Japanese were involved and the atrocities committed against the Chinese until later still. The atrocities committed against the Jews I researched myself after I left school, but the experiences of individuals was largely ignored. Elizabeth Wein has painted a picture almost completely unknown to me: the role of those on the home front and the women who not only filled the roles vacated by soldiers on the front lines but fulfilled unique roles in fighting the enemy. I was amazed by how much detail there was to learn and I think Wein for everything she taught me and everything she showed me I wanted to explore further.
Maddie and Verity have the kind of best-friendship that everyone should wish to have for themselves. Their bonds are tested by danger, hardship and distance and made all the stronger for it. Despite being in the midst of a war, they still experience the everyday joys and adventures of any friendship and I was so happy for the both of them to have found each other. Verity as a human being never shine brighter than when she downplays her own role in the story to highlight the qualities of her best friend. I felt incredibly lucky to have even a small window into the lives of two such extraordinary people.
The novel, while not especially graphic in its violence, brought a great deal of emotional pain and there were certainly parts of it that left me feeling absolutely devastated. Hearing Verity chant over and over “I have told the truth. I have told the truth. I have told the truth” will haunt me for some time and Part One of this story certainly doesn’t hold any punches.
Perhaps because Part One was so powerful, I found it hard for Part Two to inspire as much feeling in me. In some ways, I feel that Part One would have held more power had the novel ended there, but at the same time I am grateful to Part Two. In Part Two, we switch from Verity to Maddie and the story takes on an entirely new direction. While I loved seeing just how clever and cunning Verity really is and to see Maddie expand her role in the war effort, Maddie was never as vibrant and alive as she is when described by Verity.
By the end of the novel I felt so completely the loss of these wonderful characters, knowing that I would not see them again and be further enriched by their story. They felt so tangible to me it was difficult to remember they weren’t real and I thank Elizabeth Wein for the great gift she has given us.
“And this, even more wonderful and mysterious, is also true: when I read it, when I read what Julie's written, she is instantly alive again, whole and undamaged. With her words in my mind while I'm reading, she is as real as I am. Gloriously daft, drop-dead charming, full of bookish nonsense and foul language, brave and generous. She's right here. Afraid and exhausted, alone, but fighting. Flying in silver moonlight in a plane that can't be landed, stuck in the climb—alive, alive, ALIVE.”