Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson

Posted March 27, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

Madame Fourcade's Secret War

Madame Fourcade's Secret War

by Lynne Olson

Publisher: Random House on March 5, 2019
Genre: Feminism, History, Non-Fiction
Target Age Group: Adult
Rating: ★★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

In 1941, a thirty-one-year-old Frenchwoman born to privilege and known for her beauty and glamour became the leader of a vast Resistance organization--the only woman to hold such a role. Brave, independent, and a lifelong rebel against her country's conservative, patriarchal society, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was temperamentally made for the job. Her group's name was Alliance, but the Gestapo dubbed it Noah's Ark because its agents used the names of animals as their aliases. Marie-Madeleine's codename was Hedgehog.

No other French spy network lasted as long or supplied as much crucial intelligence as Alliance--and as a result, the Gestapo pursued them relentlessly, capturing, torturing, and executing hundreds of its three thousand agents, including her own lover and many of her key spies. Fourcade had to move her headquarters every week, constantly changing her hair color, clothing, and identity, yet was still imprisoned twice by the Nazis. Both times she managed to escape, once by stripping naked and forcing her thin body through the bars of her cell. The mother of two young children, Marie-Madeleine hardly saw them during the war, so entirely engaged was she in her spy network, preferring they live far from her and out of harm's way.

In Madame Fourcade's Secret War, Lynne Olson tells the tense, fascinating story of Fourcade and Alliance against the background of the developing war that split France in two and forced its citizens to live side by side with their hated German occupiers.


I am endlessly fascinated with espionage during WWII.  Or, really, any major war.  I blame the fascination on repeated viewings of Goldeneye when I was a child (it’s the best James Bond movie – I will fight you).  While Madame Fourcade’s Secret War has a little to do with Bond’s MI-6, for the most part, it tells it’s own story.  And this story was… incredibly good.  It is really everything I was looking for in a narrative this type.

Marie-Madeleine Fourcade’s biography is exactly the type of strong female narrative we need in this world.  Lynne Olson writes Marie-Madeleine as a strong women who fights for her right to run Alliance, who is brave and afraid and second-guessed but also empowered.  Beyond anything, she is strong, true to her beliefs, and willing to sacrifice whatever she must for justice and right.  Marie-Madeleine is the type of woman young girls should idolize, and I’m so glad I stumbled on this book while looking for information on the SOE or any WWII-era spy network.

Lynne Olson writes the story as an accessible narrative, focusing on key moments in Marie-Madeleine’s life and referencing her personal memoir often.  Her voice flows well, allowing the biography to feel equal parts story and history – none of the humdrum lists of names and dates here.  While I’m sure there’s a level of narrative interpretation going on, the ways in which Lynne Olson brings Marie-Madeleine to life make this biography exciting and interesting.  I haven’t read any of her work before, but after reading Madame Fourcade’s Secret War, I would certainly consider her future works.

Historical biographies don’t get a lot of love, especially compared to modern celebrity memoirs, but these people have left their imprint on history.  In the case of women like Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, history seems determined to forget them, and so, it is doubly important for us to drink up their stories and honor their memories and contributions.  In the 1940s, there was still a lot of resistance to having women operate in any aspect of the war effort… doubly so to lead it.  Those who watched the short run of Marvel’s Agent Carter have seen on screen the sort of ridiculous prejudice that world had against the minds and leadership of women.  Marie-Madeleine struggled with that prejudice, but I really appreciated that Olson included men who believed in her as well.  It’s too easy, culturally, to slide women into a specific category.  Marie-Madeleine led the French spy network Appliance on her own for most of WWII, and was still a mother.  Not one thing or the other.  Both.

And that powerful feminist message is just one reason why I really liked this book.

I think it’s easy to see the trenches and the American perspective of WWII – especially as it is taught in American classroom – but so many people of so many nationalities were instrumental to the destruction of the Nazi regime.  Every action led to the endgame – and it was not all violence and hate… but also a deep sense of national pride and the courage of those willing to risk their lives for a key piece of information that could save hundreds of soldiers.

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War is an excellent narrative for anyone interested in important, unknown women in history, WWII, or the history of espionage.  Honestly, it was just a good read overall, and one I’d certainly like on my shelf.

Ratings Breakdown

Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★★★
Sources: ★★★★★
Detail: ★★★★★
Delivery: ★★★★★
Subject: ★★★★★
Narrator: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★


Do you know of any “forgotten” female figures swallowed up by history?  I’m always on the hunt for more (it’s one of the reasons I loved Rejected Princesses) so if you know any, I’m all ears!  Let me know in the comments!

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