The Girl in the Blue Beret
By Bobbie Ann Mason
Completed August 7, 2011
Marshall Stone was the co-pilot of a B-52 bomber during World War II when his plane and crew crashed into a field in German-occupied Belgium. Thanks to benevolent farmers and members of the French Resistance, Marshall managed to sneak his way through France, over the Pyrenees and back to safety in England. 40 years later, facing forced retirement from his airline, Marshall begins to mull over his escape, and decides to go back to France to thank the people who helped him. This begins a remarkable journey of remembrance, grief and nostalgia in Bobbie Ann Mason’s latest novel, The Girl in the Blue Beret.
Bobbie Ann Mason was inspired to write this story by her father-in-law, whose war service was marked by piloting a crashed B-52 into Belgium and escaping through a network of French people who were dedicated to helping aviators. It’s an interesting aspect of the much-written about war, and Mason does a sensational job re-creating a time of fear but rebellion. Marshall’s journey as a young man and as a retired pilot offer wonderful looks at Paris and the French countryside. Equally delightful, the story pays a wonderful homage to the many unnamed French civilians who helped American and British aviators back to safety. School girls, priests, housewives – many risked their lives to commit these acts of defiance.
The Girl in the Blue Beret excelled in its historical look at Marshall’s escape, but I found some aspects of his later journey to be a bit contrived. Namely, when he reunites with a woman who helped him as a school girl, it seemed predictable that they would hook up. Additionally, Marshall’s recollections as a philandering adulterer didn’t make my image of him very favorable. I think the story could have been stronger without these elements, but the love story angle may appeal to more readers.
With that said, I am glad to have learned more about the French Resistance and their efforts to help downed pilots and crew men. Any time I am learn something new about a historical event, as I did with The Girl in the Blue Beret, I am satisfied with my selection. World War II buffs should definitely take some time to read Bobbie Ann Mason’s book – it would be a worthwhile read for history lovers as well. ( )