Title: Code Name: Lise: The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy
Author: Larry Loftis
Major Themes: True Stories, Spies, World War II
Synopsis: Though she was a normal housewife and mother, when Odette Sansom hears the call to become an SOE agent for England, she accepts the call, and ends up becoming WWII’s most highly decorated spy.
Several times, when looking through lists on Libby or Overdrive, I’ve come across a book or cover that’s captivated my imagination. Something about it pulls me, so eventually I check it out and listen to it. Code Name: Lise was one of those. I wasn’t sure about every aspect of the book, right from the get-go, but it also looked like a fascinating one—which it turned out to be!
If there’s one thing my mom has taught me to love—and her father did so for her—it’s history. Anything historical is generally considered interesting around our house. And since I was quite young, I’ve been interested in codes—my cousin even invented a code that some of us cousins used for a while in writing letters to each other! So since this book included a bit of real-life coding, I was naturally intrigued. Besides, who doesn’t like a good spy story?!
Odette Sansom, or Lise, as she was known in the spy world, was raised as a fairly normal child in France. Though she suffered blindness for a time as a child, she was able to overcome that with her mother’s determination to find a doctor to help her. Later, she married and moved to England—and that was where she was when World War II broke out. Her husband went off to war, and not too long after that, events transpired that ended up taking her into the spy networking area of the English war effort. Dropped in France, she was met with no easy task, but her determination won the day and she was soon an invaluable asset to the war effort. All was going well until one fateful day when her exhaustion proved her undoing. Would she ever get back to her girls again? And what was she to do about this new love she’d found with another man, while she was still married?
As that last sentence may indicate, I wasn’t completely on board with what Code Name: Lise contained. This is a true story, though, and facts are what they are—so in no way do I fault the author or anyone else for the contents of this book! On the contrary, I think the author did an excellent job with this story. According to his introduction, there were only four lines of dialogue in the entire story that weren’t found in historical documents. That, in itself, is a feat—but what was even more startling to me was that the story still flowed and was gripping, even without as much dialogue as you’d find in other stories! This author knows his craft, and I was thrilled to be able to hear him work his magic here.
The history, of course, is the main reason I picked this book up—and the way that was presented was equally satisfying. Though it talked about many things I hadn’t learned before about the war (such as—it was dangerous to be the radio man while on the field; the Gestapo worked out a good way to track them down while they were transmitting!), it also mentioned things I’d heard other places, so that helped confirm and expand my knowledge of other stories I’ve heard. For example, Odette/Lise ended up in Ravensbrück near the end of the war, and suffered unmentionable horrors while there. But some of the things she described were things that are also mentioned or alluded to in The Hiding Place; Corrie and Betsy ten Boom were also incarcerated there. And for me, this story showed me how miraculous Corrie’s escape was (even though Code Name: Lise didn’t mention the sisters’ story)—I knew it was close, but how close…wow. God really did have other plans for their lives!
In summary, if you’re interested in history and learning more about the Second World War, I’d recommend Code Name: Lise. It’s not an easy read, but it’s a good one, and I’m glad I took the time for it.
WARNING: Unfortunately, I listened to this book as an audiobook (while commuting to/from work), so I was not able to take specific notes on details that you may want to know. This isn’t a book for children. There is lying in multiple places (a common part of the war effort), a married woman falls in love with an unmarried man, and late in the book, marital relations have a passing mention. Probably the worst part of the book was the descriptions of what the Nazis did to try to get people to talk; some of the tortures were pretty hideous (some described in detail), and some awful things happened in the concentration camp, too. Just be aware—this is a war story, and the truth isn’t disguised.