Thursday, April 21, 2011

for Freedom. The Story of a French Spy by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

For Freedom tells the true story of Suzanne David, a former opera singer AND a spy for France.
Suzanne David is just 13 years old in 1940 when the Nazis invade France. She and her best friend Yvette attend a convent school in Cherbourg. Suzanne's family include 14 year old Pierre, and 16 year old Etienne who is lame. She is studying to be a famous opera singer under the tutelage of Madame Marcelle.

Both Suzanne and Yvette experience a horrific bombing of Place Napoleon in Cherbourg, on Wednesday May 29, 1940. While Yvette is emotionally scarred for life, Suzanne is "not one who cries". This was the beginning of the war for Suzanne. Although France had been at war with Germany for six months, Suzanne relates that " was not that I was not paying attention to the war but that I never thought the war could hurt me."

A short time later, Paris is bombed and the French give Paris up to the Nazis to preserve their beautiful city. Eventually Cherbourg with it's ammunition depot and submarine base succumbs. Suzanne's father decides to help the Nazi's run the French railroad. He takes the position that in order to survive one must "obey the rules and no one gets hurt." It is apparent that Suzanne does fully believe this will work and nor is it the right approach.

The German army takes over the houses on two streets in Cherbourg - one of them being the street Suzanne's family live on - Rue Lohen. The David's lose their home and are taken in by the Herberts who allow them to stay in their basement. The David family soon finds an apartment near a cemetery. During this time, France signs a treaty with Nazi Germany and France is divided into two parts; occupied France and Vichy France with a puppet government under German control.

Within weeks Suzanne's family is able to return to their home, now abandoned by the German soldiers. To their horror they discover that the German's not only stole all their possessions but destroyed the inside of their home as well. Suzanne struggles to understand the wanton destruction and the theft of personal items:
"Why had they taken things that meant nothing to them?...Everything was gone. I walked around and around my empty room, trying to make sense of it. Gone were clothes, toys, books and photographs."

When early in the war, her family is discussing spies, Suzanne considers this possibility:
"I stared at Papa, hearing his words over in my mind: if I were a spy. I didn't think for one moment that Papa was actually a spy, but the phrase awakened a sense of possibility in me."

Life continues on for Suzanne amid the war. She is cast as Josepha in the opera, L'Auberge du Cheval Blanc. In July 1942, Suzanne continues to travel to different cities singing and taking lessons from various instructors. The Nazis begin rounding up Jews in France.

In the spring of 1943, Suzanne is preparing to sing Carmen. When she inadvertently cuts herself with a knife, her shoulder becomes badly infected and she goes to see Dr. LeClerc who is impressed with her courage and toughness. It is this quality plus the fact that she travels throughout France that prompts LeClerc to ask Suzanne if she would like to help him in his "work" - the work of carrying messages. Suzannne agrees and becomes number 22. The messages Suzanne carried were instrumental in helping the Allies plan the D-Day invasion.

The author has written a short, high interest novel about an important French heroine in World War II. For Freedom is fast paced and mostly plot driven with little real character development beyond that of Suzanne. I highly recommend this short novel for students who might not be avid readers and need something that is high interest or who require a short historical novel for English class.

You can read an excerpt from For Freedom here and also check out Bradley's other novels at her website.

Book Details:
For Freedom. The Story of a French Spy by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf 2003
181 pp.

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