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A Life in Secrets


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About the Author

Sarah Helm is the author of Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women and A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII and the play Loyalty, about the 2003 Iraq War. She was a staff journalist on the Sunday Times (London) and a foreign correspondent on the Independent, and now writes for several publications. She lives in London with her husband and two daughters.


Vera Atkins (1908-2000) was the highest-ranking female official in the French section of a WWII British intelligence unit that aided the resistance. Atkins sent 400 agents into France, including 39 women she'd personally recruited and supervised. Many were caught by the Gestapo and subsequently disappeared and presumed dead. In 1945, after the war, Atkins, fiercely loyal to the memory of her missing agents, took it upon herself to spend a year interviewing concentration camp officials and survivors in order to piece together her agents' fates. Helm, a founding member of London's Independent, brilliantly reconstructs Atkins's harrowing detective work, shedding light in particular on the fate of missing agent Noor Inayat Khan, whose suitability for the job had been widely doubted. Helm's portrait of Atkins is acute, dwelling evocatively on her Romanian-Jewish origins and their social significance for Atkins within upper-crust British circles, and on Atkins's mysterious personal life. Drawing on interviews with relatives and friends of both Atkins and her agents, and on full access to Atkins's private papers, Helm has produced a memorable portrait of a woman who knowingly sent other women to their deaths and a searing history of female courage and suffering during WWII. (On sale Aug. 22) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Although briefly mentioned in Marcus Binney's The Women Who Lived for Danger: Behind Enemy Lines During WWII, Atkins, a British Intelligence officer during the war, receives the attention she deserves in this well-crafted biography by a British journalist and founding member of the Independent. Atkins was the able assistant of Col. Maurice Buckmaster, who headed the F-Section (France) of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), created by Churchill in 1940 to promote resistance to the Nazis in occupied Europe. Atkins worked closely with the more than 400 secret agents (a few of whom were women) sent to France to provide information and do mischief wherever possible. After the war, Atkins made it her personal mission to discover what had happened to agents who had disappeared, in particular the 16 who were women. Helms follows Atkins on this tenacious quest as she journeyed across Germany, interviewing former concentration camp guards and commanders. The author uncovers a remarkable story of courage, cruelty, and compassion as the horrors of the war catch up with these brave men and women, who risked everything in the struggle against Hitler and his minions. Helms also sheds light on Atkins's own mysterious past she was not everything she appeared to be, even to those who thought they knew her best. An absolutely spellbinding story; recommended for larger collections and those specializing in World War II. Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"Brilliant. . . . One can only admire the way that Helm put together all the pieces of the puzzle." --The Washington Post"Fascinating. . . . Compelling. . . . Gripping. . . . A stupendous job of reporting." --The New York Times"Helm's account is a chilling reminder of the ghastliness of WWII." --Entertainment Weekly"A Life in Secrets is a work of history that is at once a compelling thriller, an intriguing mystery, and a biography of bravery. . . . Better than CSI because it is all true and inspiring." --Tina Brown

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