three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
54-Sept-Oct-2011
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0

A-GirlBlueBeretBobbie Ann Mason is a former writer-in-residence at the University of Kentucky. Her award-winning novels and story collections include In Country (1985) and Shiloh and Other Stories (1982). Recently Reviewed: Atomic Romance (2.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2005).

The Story: During World War II, 23-year-old Marshall Stone served as a U.S. flyboy in Europe. He survived when his plane crashed while flying over Belgium, and he managed to evade the Nazis, but only with the help of the brave men, women, and children who risked their lives to shelter him. Decades later, the 60-year-old Marshall is set adrift by the death of his wife and a forced retirement. He decides to return to France, hoping to locate, and thank, the members of the French Resistance who helped him find his way home.
Random House. 368 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781400067183

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Mason's most elegant move is the way she interlaces Marshall's patient search for those who helped him with adrenaline-filled reenactments of the plane crash, his escape from German soldiers and then those weeks of hiding. ... It's a masterly technique that re-creates the creaky workings of memory along with the frightening adventure of a razor-thin escape." Ron Charles

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] curious novel in which the bulk of the protagonist's life, from crash-landing to retirement, is somehow irrelevant; his wartime experience, revisited and revised through Annette's recounting, is the drama that gives his life, and this story, its meaning. That drama, though it is the stuff of so many World War II and Holocaust accounts, is no less compelling; and its telling, bringing two wounded people together, offers a very real sense of how history plays out in the most intimate of moments." Ellen Akins

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3 of 5 Stars
"At 60, Marshall brings wisdom--and it's important that we know him as an adult--but the mechanism of so many memories makes for a jumpy read. And we know how Marshall turned out, so it also lacks some tension." Sarah Willis

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The Girl in the Blue Beret is a work of remarkable empathy, if not of remarkable creativity." Daniel Swift

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 2 of 5 Stars
"Although Mason constantly reminds us that Marshall knows French, the novel's dialogue is stiff, serving as clumsily disguised exposition and larded with maudlin speeches and sententious proclamations. ... Given the parallels between Marshall and Mason's father-in-law, the problem here may be that Mason cares too much to let go and allow her characters the freedom to speak for themselves." Mike Fischer

Critical Summary

Critics were eager to crack open The Girl in the Blue Beret, which was inspired by Mason's father-in-law, though several were disappointed by the novel's execution, citing awkward dialogue and character stereotypes. Others found it difficult to empathize with Marshall's remote persona. But reviewers also described the novel as a well-researched look into the harrowing world of the French Resistance. And overall, no one could deny that the book was "a heartfelt salute to the ordinary women and even girls who sprinkled sand in the gears of Hitler's army" (Washington Post).