Code Name Helene (Lawhon)

Code Name Helene 
Ariel Lawhon, 2020
Knopf Doubleday
464 pp.

Based on the thrilling real-life story of Socialite spy Nancy Wake, comes the newest feat of historical fiction from the author of I Was Anastasia, featuring the astonishing woman who killed a Nazi with her bare hands and went on to become one of the most decorated women in WWII.

Told in interweaving timelines organized around the four code names Nancy used during the war, Code Name Helene is a spellbinding and moving story of enduring love, remarkable sacrifice and unfaltering resolve that chronicles the true exploits of a woman who deserves to be a household name.

It is 1936 when Nancy Wake, an intrepid Australian expat living in Paris who has bluffed her way into a reporting job for Hearst newspaper, meets the wealthy French industrialist Henri Fiocca.

No sooner does Henri sweep Nancy off her feet and convince her to become Mrs. Fiocca than the Germans invade France and she takes yet another name: a code name.

As LUCIENNE CARLIER Nancy smuggles people and documents across the border and earns a new nickname from the Gestapo for her remarkable ability to evade capture: THE WHITE MOUSE.

With a five million franc bounty on her head, Nancy is forced to escape France and leave Henri behind. When she enters training with the Special Operations Executives in Britain, she is told to use the name HELENE with her comrades.

Finally, with mission in hand, Nancy is air-dropped back into France as the deadly MADAM ANDREE, where she claims her place as one of the most powerful leaders in the French Resistance. She becomes known for her ferocious wit, her signature red lipstick, and her ability to summon weapons straight from the Allied Forces.

But no one can protect Nancy if the enemy finds out these four women are one and the same, and the closer to liberation France gets, the more exposed she—and the people she loves—will become. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus).

Lawhon's first novel, The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress (2014) is centered around the still-unsolved disappearance of New York State Supreme Court Judge, Joseph Crater. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

Her second novel, Flight of Dreams (2016) is a fictional exploration of the mystery behind the the 1937 Hindenberg blimp explosion. I Was Anastasia (2018), Lawhon's third novel, follows Anna Anderson, who claimed to be Anastasia Romonov, the lone survivor of the execution of the Czar of Russia and his family. (From the author's website.)

Book Reviews
Lawhon’s vivid, fast-paced narrative will keep readers turning the pages, and a detailed afterword makes plain how much of the account is factual. This entertaining tale does justice to Lawhon’s larger-than-life subject.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) Wake's heroism, alongside the bravery and sacrifice of all who fought, [give] hope that even in the darkest times there are real-life heroes. Readers will be transfixed by this story of a woman who should be a household name. —Susan Santa, Shelter Rock P. L., Albertson, NY
Library Journal

(Starred review) Magnificent…. Lawhon carries us into the heart of the French resistance [and] into the mind of a badass heroine with uncanny instincts…. Even long after the last page is turned, this astonishing story of Wake’s accomplishments will hold readers in its grip.

(Starred review) [P]lenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary! [C]ompulsively readable… Lawhon's best book to date.
Kirkus Reviews

(Starred review) A spellbinding work of historical fiction… [and] one of the most sensual romance novels you’ve ever read.… She is real, this really did happen is the mantra you may find yourself repeating, in awe of every page.

Discussion Questions
1. Nancy’s argument with her Hearst editor takes place in 1936, but is probably not all that different from challenges that face women in the workforce today. We later learn that Nancy agreed was told that her work for Hearst would be published without not carry a byline … unless she took a male pen name, which she refused to do. What would you have done?

2. "Men don’t know what to do with a woman who can clip her own cigar." What are the implications of Stephanie’s statement? And does it still hold true today?

3. Nancy is accused of using "profanity as a weapon" to gain her male colleagues’ respect. Do you think this is true?

4. What are your thoughts regarding the shift of perspective from first person to third person? Did it result in a more multi-dimensional portrait of Nancy?

5. Discuss the shift back and forth in time between Nancy’s life before and during the war. Did it give you a different view at the ways in which war alters lives, both great and small?

6. "The thing about lipstick, the reason it’s so powerful, is that it is distracting." Nancy’s beloved red lipstick also gives her confidence. Is there a product or accessory that does something similar for you?

7. Had you heard of Nancy Wake prior to reading Code Name Helene? Did the novel inspire you to learn more about her?

8. Did the dynamic of Nancy and Henri’s relationship surprise you? In what ways does it differ from other stories of love in wartime that you have read before?

9. The consequences of Marceline’s betrayal are staggering. Do you think her obsession with Henri is the only reason for her choices? Or is her decision deeper and more complex?

10. Nancy’s trek across the Pyrenees and her 72-hour bike ride are harrowing. Her grit and stamina are awe-inspiring. Do you think you could endure the physical and mental stress of such a journey?

11. What is the one thing about Nancy that you found the most surprising

12. If Code Name Helene were made into a movie, who would you like to see cast in the roles of Nancy and Henri?

13. Did you read the Author’s Note before or after finishing the novel? How did it change your feelings about the novel?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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