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The Girl in the Blue Beret: A Novel by…
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The Girl in the Blue Beret: A Novel (2011)

by Bobbie Ann Mason

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2101955,654 (3.28)23

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Although this book started out a bit slowly for me, and I had trouble engaging with the main character, I'm glad I stuck with it, because it turned out to be a lovely, moving story. Marshall Stone was a WWII bomber pilot, shot down over Belgium. He managed to land his plane in a field, and was saved, hidden and eventually escorted over the Pyrenees to safety in Spain by Belgian farmers and members of the French resistance, including a schoolgirl in a blue beret. Thirty-six years after the end of the war, now a commercial pilot forced by airline regulations to retire at age 60, Marshall finds himself at loose ends and uncertain what his life is all about. His wife has died, his grown children are distant. He decides to move temporarily to France, and to attempt to locate some of the people who helped him survive and escape to freedom. Although told from Marshall's point of view, the heart and soul of this novel rest in the person of the title Girl, who seems likely, once again, to be the instrument of his salvation.
Review written in February, 2012
  laytonwoman3rd | Jul 24, 2015 |
I loved this one. Marshall Stone was a cocky American pilot whose B-17 was shot down over Nazi-occupied Belgium in WWII. Marshall survives and escapes to Spain with the help of ordinary French and Belgian citizens who risked everything and shared their meagre food and clothing to help downed aviateurs to safety. After the war, Marshall marries his sweetheart and becomes a commercial airline pilot during the golden, glamorous age of aviation. The book begins as Marshall is fairly recently widowed and facing retirement. As a pilot, the only thing he ever wanted to do is fly, so he is adrift, and decides to learn more about the individuals who helped him in 1944. In particular, he is looking for a girl in a blue beret who guided him through occupied Paris.

The book doesn't have overwhelmingly positive reviews here, and many readers complain that Marshall is not a sympathetic character. He really resonated with me, though, and I think Ms. Mason, who was inspired by her father-in-law's story of escape via the Resistance did a marvelous job of portraying a man coming to terms with the past, examining his life and his place in it, and becoming humbled by the bigger picture. This often occurs in a coming-of-age novel, however, Marshall is 60, and that bittersweet journey of realization, reflection, and regret is so much richer at that age than at 18 or 25 or 30. He returned home a hero, but is profoundly disappointed and ashamed -- he only flew 10 missions, he was shot down, he slunk out of France while others were winning the war. He married his sweetheart and loved his job, but was a distant father -- in a moving scene he reflects on his marriage, and how he left the children AND the marriage for his wife to run while he went off and flew. His focus while in France and ever since was on himself, and this new journey of learning and discovery leaves him reeling and profoundly moved by the the stories of generosity, harrowing danger, extreme deprivation, and horrific suffering by those who risked everything to help him and others like him.

Maybe one reason why the book captivated me so much is because I know Marshall. He is my dad (Navy pilot in Vietnam turned commercial airline pilot) and my uncle and my godfather (same) and grandfather (Army pilot stationed at Pearl Harbor in WWII) and all of their friends and colleagues -- many of the adults I knew growing up. Deeply flawed, as we all are, somewhat distant fathers (from an era that largely left child-rearing to mothers), and pilots through and through. None of them is Atticus Finch. To have drawn Marshall any other way might have made him a more appealing protagonist, but far less authentic. I can say that Ms. Mason got him exactly right, and his journey -- and what he learns through the stories of the individuals he meets -- are very compelling. And like real life, the book does not end with neat resolutions. Still, it was a very satisfying read that illuminated more of WWII history for me.
1 vote AMQS | Jun 30, 2015 |
9 audio discs

3.5

I gravitate towards WW2 human interest stories.
This was a decent read but at times seemed long in making a point.

But ...I did learn more of WW2 the French Resistance and occupied France. (an objective)
Courage and love and memories and all of its challenges made this a nostalgic
fiction real.
"Over three thousand Allied airmen were rescued during the war, and an extraordinary, deep bond between them and their European helpers endures..."

Terrific cover and bookseller has reading guide questions available ( )
  pennsylady | Jan 14, 2015 |
The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason is the story of a World War II vet who returns to France to find the people who helped him when his plane was shot down. It's the story of an aspect of the French resistance I knew little about prior to reading this book.

I found it interesting that many women who have reviewed The Girl in the Blue Beret, were put off by Marshall Stone, the main character, by the way he seemed to move on quickly after the death of his wife. His lack of mourning disrespected her memory. I read another book recently where the same situation occurred with the gender roles reversed. I reacted to that story more than this one. I suppose it is because I could identify with the man who died prior to the beginning of Turkmen Captives by Susan Williamson more than I could identify with Lorretta in Mason's work. A reader brings his or her own perspective to a novel, which is why a book can be very different for different people.

Marshall is cold in the beginning, but I give him points for recognizing his flaws. In one section he says the downing of his plane in occupied France was the worst day of his life, then feels guilty that he relegated the death of his wife to the second worst day. I also believe he opened up as the emotions from the rediscovered war memories got to him. Characters in a good novel change along the journey and Marshall certainly did.

There's an unusual distance in this book that works well, given the subject matter. The vast majority of the story is told in the characters' dialog, as they reflect on their experiences, so it is a second hand story. Although “show don't tell” is a good axiom for beginning writers, experienced writers generally use what is appropriate for what they are trying to accomplish. Bobbie Ann Mason decided to “tell” this book and I think her choice works.

This is a good book for people who like historical fiction in a World War II setting.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions ( )
  SteveLindahl | Nov 29, 2014 |
An intriguing use of family history as the basis for a novel, and very interesting in its perspective on the French resistance movement. I enjoyed reading it and found it useful as a book to read in small sections before bed: sufficiently compelling without demanding that I continue. It's difficult to balance careful research (which this work appears to have in abundance) with the emotional dynamics of storytelling. In this case, the narrative feels like a deftly built container to hold an understanding of an era and several types of people who inhabited that time.

I didn't have the problems with disjointedness that other readers did, and although I did look for a page beyond the ending I also found that the closure was satisfying in that it sidestepped cliché.

The dialogue, which others have felt was stilted, reflects the locutions of French rendered in English. I never quite decided what I thought of the technique. It didn't annoy me, but it never felt completely natural and I think it also reinforced a sense of emotional distance.

I am glad that I read it. If a book doesn't meet basic, stringent criteria, I don't finish it. The fact that The Girl in the Blue Beret passed that test is significant. ( )
  robson663 | Jun 20, 2014 |
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Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven! --William Wordsworth, "The Prelude"
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Dedicated to Michele Agniel and to the memory of Barney Rawlings (1920-2004)
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As the long field came into view, Marshall Stone felt his breathing quicken, a rush of doves flying from his chest.
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An American World War II pilot shot down in Occupied Europe returns to his crash site decades later and finds himself drawn back in time to the brave people who helped him escape from the Nazis.

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