Title: The Princess Spy: The True Story of World War II Spy Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones
Author: Larry Loftis
Major Themes: True Stories, Spies, Spain, World War II
Synopsis: The true story of a woman who wanted to join the war effort, but couldn’t figure out how to—until she met a stranger one day, and was recruited for spy work in Spain during World War II.
Just recently, when I checked to see if Larry Loftis had put out any new books, I saw that The Princess Spy was published recently. After his Code Name: Lise hit my top ten list for last year, I knew I wanted to see what else he came up with, so this one was the natural next step. The only problem? The audiobook for it—which was the only thing I could access at the time—had a 20-some week waiting list on Libby! Oh well. I’d get to it eventually. Well, last week the time was up—much swifter than the 20 weeks, I might add—and it just so happened that this week, I had some tasks to complete that were repetitive, and needed some form of entertainment to go along with it to keep me from being bored out of my mind. The Princess Spy was the perfect option, and I finished the 9 3/4-hour listen in three days.
Aline Griffith didn’t ever expect to end up in the spy world—after school, while trying to decide what to do, she ended up being a model for a time. But when World War II started heating up, and her brothers headed off to the war, she knew she wanted to do something for her country, too—she just wasn’t sure what she ought to do. She couldn’t join the army, and didn’t have much inclination toward nursing—anyway, that would have taken too long; the war would long be over by the time she finished. When she happened to mention her dilemma at a dinner she was invited to, one of the guests asked her about her desire to help out. “I’ll see what I can do,” he promised, and soon thereafter she received an invite to meet someone in Washington within a few days. And, before too long, she found herself in Spain, acting the part of an office girl while secretly working for the US intelligence agency.
Where this book excelled, in my opinion, was showing the Spanish culture as it was then. The spy part was definitely there—but not with such the high stakes or quite as many details as I’ve been familiar with in other places. But getting to know the Spaniards as they were then—through the point of view of someone falling in love with the culture—was beautiful. I’ve never been more interested in what bullfighting entails than when I read this book—now I want to look up some Youtube videos of that!
As always, the history in The Princess Spy was my favorite part. I was disappointed that spy work didn’t figure as highly, but hearing the little bits of the war that did come through were all quite interesting. For example, there’s a story here of some women who had to escape to Gibraltar, and what happened to them when someone trailed them and found one. It was a dangerous business—both to be running a safe house and also to be one on the run—and that came through well. Then the mentions of the Spanish Civil War that apparently came just before the Second World War—interesting. I’m not sure I’d ever heard of that before.
In all, this was a fascinating book; a portrait of a time past that I can’t really even imagine anymore. Recommended, if you enjoy learning more about history!
WARNING: I listened to this book as an audiobook, so may have missed some things—but I tried to keep track as I went!
Throughout the book, there are many mentions of the characters going to parties and drinking.
The preface or chapter 1 has a man trying to break into a woman’s house, and the woman has a gun ready to shoot him when he appears. In chapter 2, the word “d—n” is used, and a woman is at training school learning to handle weapons. Chapter 3 has a kiss. Chapter 4 mentions sensual dancing, but does not include a description of it. Chapter 6 has some discussion about a man who was drugged, then kidnapped by an enemy spy. Chapter 7 has someone fortune-telling from cards. In chapter 8, the story resumes from ch. 1 with the man trying to break in. In chapter 9, the phrase “why the h—l” is used, a man visits a woman one night, and there is a kiss. In chapter 10 there is lying, a woman arrives who has killed a couple of guards, and later a woman is found shot (some description of blood). Chapter 11 continues the story with more details of the killing scene, there is more lying, and a woman watches a bullfight that is quite dangerous. Chapter 12 continues the bullfight, and there is an attempted assassination. Chapter 13 has more lying, “d—n” is used again, there is a disgusting performance at a bullfight, and a woman is followed home. In chapter 18, there is more dancing, “sensual music”, and a kiss. Chapter 20 has more kissing. In chapter 22, a woman tries to ride a calf, is thrown, but is uninjured. In chapter 23 there is a mention of a man fingering a revolver. Chapter 24 has the word “d—ned”, a very hurt man is described, there is a story of men who were set on fire in fighting, a man is shot and killed, and another man is gored by a bull and killed. The epilogue tells of another man who was gored, mention of a woman who had married and divorced multiple times (that also comes up elsewhere in the book); also, a mention of a man who appears through the book who divorced his wife to marry someone else, later got divorced again a couple of times, and finally committed suicide.
Reading Independently—Ages 15 and Above, Adults