Rees brings to vivid life the story of Lucie Aubrac and her husband, a couple in the French Resistance. The story shows how truth can be so much stranger than fiction. From the very beginning of her life, Lucie shows herself to be a fighter, courageous, a woman who cannot be pigeon-holed or labelled. Aubrac says, “Refusal has been a principle all my life”, and that the idea of “Liberty” was directly linked to the principle of refusal and refusal was linked to disobedience. It seemed inevitable that she would be drawn to “refuse” the invasion of her beloved country, and that her husband, with whom she shared a passionate, enduring love, would also be drawn to the French Resistance.
The book recounts her many exploits, the most famous one being how she brazenly engineered and secured the escape of her husband from Klaus Barbie, the “Butcher of Lyon”. She organised a second rescue when he was again captured by ambushing the prison van convoy he was being transported in. No less brave, was her husband, Raymond, but her bravery had an element of audacious recklessness and an ability to quash fear that astonishes.
The book is also useful for the way it paints the background to the French Resistance, and dispels the myth that it was one united force. The Aubracs both faced scrutiny thirty years after the war when faced with Barbie’s claim that they were informants for the Gestapo.
Sian Rees is not afraid to not only present Lucie Aubrac, the brilliant French Resistance mastermind, but also Lucie’s storytelling about herself and lifelong flirtation with the truth. Rees writes that this flaw is “a flaw rooted not in actions, but in character – the individual, unrepeatable blend of circumstance, childhood, chance and neuropsychology which created the person who became ‘Lucy Aubrac’”.
The book is well-researched, and although packed with historical information, it is written in a lively, articulate way. A life to marvel at, and a book to learn by.