Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu

Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan Book Cover


Rating: 3 Stars

Holders of the George Cross are out of the common run; Noor Inaya Khan was even farther out of it than most.



About


Noor Inayat Khan was the daughter of an Indian Sufi priest and an American, born in Russia, they traveled Europe until they settled down in France. But when the Nazis occupied France, they had to flee the country towards England.

Noor, determined to help the Allies, volunteered for service with the SOE, where she trained as a radio operator and was later dropped into occupied France, to serve in the most dangerous region of them all: Paris.

Evading the Gestapo and the SD, she transmitted messages until she was betrayed and captured and then sent to Dachau where she was executed.


Review


Noor Inayat Khan was an impressive woman. I just wish I had read about her in a different book. Her life read like a thriller, except it all happened and it all was real.

Noor’s courage is impressive. She deliberately chose Paris as her base, even knowing that it was the most dangerous place to be in in occupied France, as it was heavily patrolled by the Gestapo.

Furthermore, she was a radio operator and they were particularly hunted by the Nazis and it was difficult for them to blend in, because they had to carry their heavy equipment around.

Radio operators suffered the highest casualties among agents and there was a constant demand for replacement operators.



Reading about the cat and mouse game she played with the Gestapo had me on the edge of my seat. Despite knowing what would happen in the end, I couldn’t help but hope that she would somehow make it out alive.

Noor was impressive and her life is incredibly interesting.

The capture and disappearace of F-section operators – Norman, Agazarian, Robert Dowlen, Macalister, Dubois and Cohen – left Noor as the only operator in and around Paris and though she had been warned by Buckmaster to lie low, she started transmitting cautiously. Single-handedly she did the work of six radio operators.



The problem I had was with this book and the way it was written. It starts out focusing way to heavily on her childhood. While I agree that it is important, it took up too much space. And even there, there were many parts thrown in off-handedly that never were delved into. For example her asshole fiance. We never get much on him, even though he played a big part in her life before she left France.

According to Vilayat, Noor’s fiancé was too overbearing and distressed Noor. Goldberg would threaten to commit suicide if she left him and Noor never dared to test his threat.



In the end, she does break up with him but the whole episode felt oddly detached in the book, as we never get much insight into their relationship apart from sentences like that one.

The description of her time in France, on the other hand, felt rushed. It should have been the focal point of the book and I wish the book would have spend more time there and given the narrative more time to unfold.

Instead, names were thrown around with abandon. Every single agent was listed, but it was a parade of names. We didn’t get a story behind the name, we didn’t get to know these people. They were just named and then disappeared again and that definitely does them injustice.

Other circuits working with Prosper included Privet, a sub-circuit in the Angers area with Ernest Wilkonson (Alexandre) as organiser, a groupe in the Oise(West)/ Eure(East) area organised by George Darling of Gisors, a group in the Orne organised by Jean Michel Cauchi (Paul) of Falaise, a group in the Indre.et.Loire area run by Pierre Culioli (Adolph) and Yvonne Rudellat (Jaqueline) as courier…



Furthermore, the descriptions of Noor in the book annoyed me. It keeps on pointing out what a shy and sensitive girl Noor was.

Handling weapons was never going to be easy for this dreamy, sensitive writer of children’s stories.



Going just by these descriptions, it might have been a fourteen year old girl the book was describing and not a courageous, smart young woman that was excellent at her job and kept evading the Gestapo.

All you have to do is remember one thing. Never use a key phrase with eighteen letters in it – any other number but not eighteen. If you use eighteen, I’ll know you’ve been caught.’

‘Eighteen’s my lucky number,’ said Noor. ‘Yes, I could do that. And I promise you not to forget it. I promise you Mr Marks.’



Conclusion


Noor Inayat Khan was an impressive woman. Smart, courageous and determined, she held her post under the most difficult circumstances. This book, for me, doesn’t do her justice.

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