The Invisible Woman (Spy Heroines of World War II, Book 1)
Sisters of Night and Fog (Female Spy Heroines of World War II Book 2)
The Invisible Woman and Sisters of Night and Fog by Erika Robuck are very captivating historical novels. Inspired closely by true stories, Robuck skillfully brings to life these heroic women, Virginia Hall, Virginia d’Albert-Lake and Violette Szabo. These two novels highlight the duty, the sacrifice and the determination of these historic women who helped the Resistance during the Second World War.
The SOE, known as the Special Operations Executive, was a British World War II organization formed in 1940. They assisted the Resistance in espionage and sabotage against the Nazis. They worked hand in hand with the American OSS, which later became the CIA. Winston Churchill, William J. Donovan and Vera Atkins, who recruited, trained and planned secret missions in France, helped the Resistance.
The Invisible Woman shows why Virginia Hall should be honored with the United States Medal of Honor. She was a vigilant spy, a fearless soldier, and a steadfast commander. Sent to occupied France to organize spy networks, gather intelligence and manage refuges in 1942, she had to escape the Nazis after the betrayal of her network. But not to be discouraged, she returned in 1944 to organize the resistance before the Allied invasion. The Gestapo had wanted posters of “The Limping Lady”, because she had a prosthetic leg which they named “Cuthbert”. She played an important role in helping the allies defeat the Nazis and liberate the French.
Sisters of Night and Fog has two wives, Violette Szabo and Virginia d’Albert-Lake, linked by fate and chance. Virginia is an American for a Frenchman who becomes a leader in helping Allied airmen escape from occupied France. Violette, a half-French British citizen, joins the SOE, leaving behind her infant daughter, and parachutes into France with money to pay for the resistance. The two women helped the resistance, but unfortunately their clandestine actions came to an abrupt end after being captured by the Germans and brought together at the Ravensbrück concentration camp. They bond by enduring torture and horrific conditions. Virginia admires and respects Violette for her inspiration and determination to keep as many women alive as possible in the camp.
Robuck’s portrayals of these three unforgettable heroines are captivating. A bonus in both novels is the author’s character and story notes. Readers will feel the tension and make the journey with these inspiring women through their sacrifice, courage and endurance.
Elise Cooper: The idea for the series?
Erika Robuck: These two books are linked. These are women of the Second World War who fought with the resistance and participated in espionage in different capacities. While I was researching The Invisible Woman this led to the second book, Sisters of Night and Fog. I had been writing for a long time about women in the shadow of male authors. An editor said, why not write about a remarkable woman in her own right. I found a Smithsonian article about a woman who spied for the allies and helped found modern intelligence. The main character of the first novel, Virginia Hall, suited a remarkable woman.
EC: Do you like the name Virginia?
Emergency room: LOL. I like the name. They are old fashioned. It seems like everyone I’m looking for is either a Virginia, a Violet, or a Vera.
EC: Ok, so do you like female characters whose names start with “V”?
Emergency room : I learned to love it because I think of the symbols of victory. It suits those real women.
EC: The main character in Virginia Hall’s The Invisible Woman was formulated from stories told by his niece?
Emergency room : I met her because she lives in Maryland, just like me. I was able to interview him quite a bit. She allowed me to see the family photos. She colored the pencil sketch I had, able to know the real woman after meeting her family. Virginia took her niece on fishing and hunting expeditions.
EC: How would you describe Virginia Hall?
Emergency room: She is unconventional in that she and her husband Paul lived together before getting married at a time when that was unusual. She is assertive, fearsome, curious, intelligent, sensible, has a sense of loyalty/duty and is incredibly brave. She was athletic, captain of all the teams she was on. Since she was told little about her life, she was a little bitter. Her mother didn’t want her to travel the world, the foreign service said no because she was a woman and had a disability. But she overcame it all.
EC: What was his disability?
Emergency room : She had a prosthetic leg. She accidentally shot her foot while hunting, shooting birds. She named the leg Cuthbert, the Patron Saint of Birds. It’s the only connection anyone can make with the name of their leg. Even with her leg lost, she had so many talents as an actress, hunter, sailor, adventurer, soldier, and linguist.
EC: Did Virginia Hall become a spy?
Emergency room : After France fell to the Nazis, she went to London. This is where she ended up on the radar of the British Special Operations Executive. They saw her talents and weren’t put off by anything with her. After her first mission where the network was betrayed, she had a lot of anger. She lost many people through death and imprisonment although she was able to escape. With her next assignment in France, she had a lot of survivor’s guilt and PTSD. She was afraid of losing people, but she went on, won her over and had hope. I’m working with the women of the intelligence agencies and his family to get him the Medal of Honor.
EC: She became a commander in the resistance movement?
Emergency room : She had a keen sense of talent, spotting how certain people could help the Allied cause and gain their trust, which is how she created her resistance network. She was able to muster, train and arm the resistance, showing how vital the network was to the Allied cause. She knew how to organize them.
EC: How would you describe Vera Atkins who was in both books?
Emergency room : She was the ultimate spy, cool and calm. Being Jewish, Vera was deeply invested in those she oversaw for the SOE to help fight the Nazis. She faced backlash as a woman, but was able to recruit allies because she was incredibly charming and diplomatic. She could navigate the different circles. She and Winston Churchill were on the same page, not afraid to have women or people with disabilities serve. They were associated with the OSS, the precursor to the CIA. Author Ian Fleming based the fictional character “M” on Atkins in his James Bond novels. After the war, she searched for all the evidence of those she had lost, feeling deeply responsible. She lost 118 of the 400 she recruited. His research was used during the Nuremberg trials to convict many Nazis.
EC: in Sisters of Night and Fog there was also a Virginia, the Virginia of Albert Lake?
Emergency room : She is very different from Virginia Hall because she was a typical woman. She did not seek danger and daring, thinking that after her marriage in France there would be happiness forever. She wasn’t wired for a leadership role, but grew into it. Virginia of Albert Lake was more down to earth and quieter. She assumed her role, helping one person at a time. She was a different kind of leader from Virginia Hall who could be a bit rude.
EC: What about Violette, another heroine of the second book?
Emergency room : She is more brash and impulsive than Virginia. She worked more on instinct. She grew up with five brothers and had to navigate her way through life. After the Nazis killed her husband during the war, she sought revenge. Violette has become a sniper. She was more of a risk taker, a hurt person, and more emotional than the other two. She went through life like a wrecking ball. Her relationship with her father led her to want to be one of the boys and to seek the approval of the men in the resistance. It has matured over the years of war. With her SOE training, she has become more focused, moderate and refined. This allowed her to be a great leader of those women who were imprisoned by the Nazis with her in Ravensbruck concentration camp.
EC: What did the three women have in common?
Emergency room : Both Virginias were American. All three were brave with inner strength. They demanded respect. They found their calling, which helped them rise to different occasions. All faced a cycle of emotions ranging from worry, fear, hope, guilt and love. They knew the average lifespan was six weeks. I loved them all with a different piece of my heart.
EC: Is there a quote in one of the books on humanity?
Emergency room : You are referring to this one: “Is humanity doomed? Is it even refundable at this point? What is the use of doing a small act of good when evil seems to dominate it? Darkness seems to erase all light. What the Germans did to the Jews: round them up, send them to labor and concentration camps, endless killing and torture. Man’s inhumanity to man is incomprehensible. The Nazis also crucified babies, locked the French in churches and burned them. Each of these women was determined to show that hope exists with the defeat of the Nazis.
EC: What would you like readers to take away from the books?
EK: There is always hope. Women have the strength to do what needs to be done. They just have to have courage. At the end of each book, they can read the author’s note if they choose to delve deeper into the story.
EC: Next book?
Emergency room : I was thinking of writing about Vera Atkins, the supervisor of SOE, but another author does, Laura Kamoie. After this World War II novel, I will move on to another area of historical fiction. For my personal sanity, I avoid World War II.