A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII

Sarah Helm, Author . Doubleday/Talese $27.50 (493p) ISBN 978-0-385-50845-2

Vera Atkins (1908–2000) was the highest-ranking female official in the French section of a WWII British intelligence unit that aided the resistance. Atkins sent 400 agents into France, including 39 women she'd personally recruited and supervised. Many were caught by the Gestapo and subsequently disappeared and presumed dead. In 1945, after the war, Atkins, fiercely loyal to the memory of her missing agents, took it upon herself to spend a year interviewing concentration camp officials and survivors in order to piece together her agents' fates. Helm, a founding member of London's Independent , brilliantly reconstructs Atkins's harrowing detective work, shedding light in particular on the fate of missing agent Noor Inayat Khan, whose suitability for the job had been widely doubted. Helm's portrait of Atkins is acute, dwelling evocatively on her Romanian-Jewish origins and their social significance for Atkins within upper-crust British circles, and on Atkins's mysterious personal life. Drawing on interviews with relatives and friends of both Atkins and her agents, and on full access to Atkins's private papers, Helm has produced a memorable portrait of a woman who knowingly sent other women to their deaths and a searing history of female courage and suffering during WWII. (On sale Aug. 22)

Reviewed on: 04/17/2006
Release date: 08/01/2006
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 493 pages - 978-1-4000-3140-5
Open Ebook - 354 pages - 978-0-307-48747-6
Hardcover - 463 pages - 978-0-316-72497-5
Paperback - 463 pages - 978-0-349-11936-6
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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