Every year it seems like I get a short stint, or rather, an itch, to read about World War II. A revisitation to Paul Celan’s poetry becomes a tradition, while war movies are queued up on my Netflix and Hulu. This will probably be the year I re-read “Slaughterhouse-Five”, or potentially break into the tome of “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. Regardless of how much I’ll actually have the tenacity to read, most of this year’s energy has been spent on “D-Day Girls,” by Sarah Rose, an account of British and French spies, primarily women, working undercover behind enemy lines to ensure preparations for the D-Day landings in the European theatre.
Despite the density of most nonfiction literature on wars, “D-Day Girls”reads with tactile smoothness and begins with intense character development of the prominent women focused on in Rose’s research and interviews. Once the book moves away from introducing the main characters during their recruitment and training, the stories of each woman branch off, their narratives interwoven yet totally disconnected from each other. As the narratives continue to pop around at brisk pace, though, the events of the war at large seem to move sluggishly in comparison. Halfway through “D-Day Girls”most of the characters get captured, and there were still 200 pages left.
Although only the first third of “D-Day Girls”is particularly arresting for its commentary on the involvement of women during WWII and illuminating portrayal of women soldiers, it’s hard to not call this book important. Stories of this sort shouldn’t go unnoticed; the empowerment exuded by the women involved is infectious. They’re the shining aspects of “D-Day Girls,”a book that ultimately suffers from poor structure, tension, and pacing. Since the beginning is the most enjoyable—the section of the book with the least amount of tension, too—it affirms that most of the emotional resonance of “D-Day Girls” originates from the scope of its intent.
Rose, however, paints the eponymous D-Day Girls with such vivid realism that their individual character arcs were what carried me through the book. It’s saddening when characters one by one get imprisoned by German soldiers, and their safety was something that genuinely mattered in my reading. Though by this point the book was relatively over (again, only a little over halfway through), I needed to know the fate of everyone involved.
For summer reading, “D-Day Girls” was every bit of war escapism I could handle. Even though it only took me a little over a week to finish, I still felt that was too slow. And that’s the problem: “D-Day Girls” is concurrently unhurried and too fast in the story it’s trying to tell. In the end, it’s hard to tell what that story really was. But maybe that’s the point—without the courage and actions of these women, D-Day might not have been successful. There’s importance in that, of course, but, for a 400 page book, I certainly expected it to say more.