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The Girl in the Blue Beret: A Novel [Séquence inédite] [Anglais] [Relié]

Bobbie Ann Mason

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Description de l'ouvrage

28 juin 2011
Inspired by the wartime experiences of her late father-in-law, award-winning author Bobbie Ann Mason has written an unforgettable novel about an American World War II pilot shot down in Occupied Europe.

When Marshall Stone returns to his crash site decades later, he finds himself drawn back in time to the brave people who helped him escape from the Nazis. He especially recalls one intrepid girl guide who risked her life to help him—the girl in the blue beret.

At twenty-three, Marshall Stone was a U.S. flyboy stationed in England. Headstrong and cocksure, he had nine exhilarating bombing raids under his belt when enemy fighters forced his B-17 to crash-land in a Belgian field near the border of France. The memories of what happened next—the frantic moments right after the fiery crash, the guilt of leaving his wounded crewmates and fleeing into the woods to escape German troops, the terror of being alone in a foreign country—all come rushing back when Marshall sets foot on that Belgian field again.

Marshall was saved only by the kindness of ordinary citizens who, as part of the Resistance, moved downed Allied airmen through clandestine, often outrageous routes (over the Pyrenees to Spain) to get them back to their bases in England. Even though Marshall shared a close bond with several of the Resistance members who risked their lives for him, after the war he did not look back. But now he wants to find them again—to thank them and renew their ties. Most of all, Marshall wants to find the courageous woman who guided him through Paris. She was a mere teenager at the time, one link in the underground line to freedom.

Marshall’s search becomes a wrenching odyssey of discovery that threatens to break his heart—and also sets him on a new course for the rest of his life. In his journey, he finds astonishing revelations about the people he knew during the war—none more electrifying and inspiring than the story of the girl in the blue beret.

Intimate and haunting, The Girl in the Blue Beret is a beautiful and affecting story of love and courage, war and redemption, and the startling promise of second chances.

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1.

As the long field came into view, Marshall Stone felt his breathing quicken, a rush of doves flying from his chest. The landscape was surprisingly familiar, its contours and borders fresh in his memory, even though he had been here only fleetingly thirty-six years ago. Lucien Lombard, who had brought him here today, knew the field intimately, for it had been in his family for generations.

“It was over there beside that tree, monsieur,” Lucien said, pointing toward the center of the field, where an awkward sycamore hovered over a patch of unruly vegetation.

“There was no tree then,” Marshall said.

“That is true.”

They walked through the furrowed field toward the tree, Lucien’s sturdy brown boots mushing the mud, Marshall following in borrowed Wellingtons. He was silent, his memory of the crash landing superimposed on the scene in front of him, as if there were a small movie projector in his mind. The Flying Fortress, the B-17, the heavy bomber the crew called the Dirty Lily, had been returning from a mission to Frankfurt.

“The airplane came down just there,” said Lucien as they neared the tree.

Lucien was elderly—probably in his eighties, Marshall thought—but he had a strong, erect physique, and he walked with a quick, determined step. His hair was thin, nearly white, his face smooth and firm.

“Normally a farmer would not permit a tree to thrive in his field,” he said. “But this tree marks the site.”

Unexpectedly, Marshall Stone began to cry. Embarrassed, he turned his face aside. He was a captain of transatlantic jumbo jets, a man who did not show weakness. He was alarmed by his emotion.

Lucien Lombard nodded. “I know, monsieur,” he said.

In Marshall’s mind, the crumpled B-17 lay before him in the center of the field. He recalled that the plane had been lined up with the neatly plowed furrows.

The deep, rumbling sound of a vast formation of B-17s roared through Marshall’s memory now. The steady, violent, rocking flight toward target. The sight of Focke-Wulf 190s—angry hornets darting crazily. The black bursts of flak floating like tumbleweeds strewn on a western highway. The fuselage flak-peppered. Slipping down into the cloud deck, flying for more than an hour unprotected. Over Belgium, hit again. The nose cone shattering. The pilot panicking.

Marshall, the co-pilot, took the controls and brought the Dirty Lily down. A belly landing on this foreign soil. There was no time to jettison the ball turret. Only as they were coming down did Marshall see that Lawrence Webb, the pilot, was unconscious. The Fort grazed the top of a tall hedgerow and slid in with a jolt, grinding to a hard stop. The crew scrambled out. Marshall and the flight engineer wrestled Webb’s slack body from the plane. The navigator’s face was torn, bloodied. The fuselage was burning. Machine-gun rounds were exploding at the gun stations. Marshall didn’t see the tail gunner anywhere. The left waist gunner lay on the ground, motionless.

Marshall had been just twenty-three years old then. Now he was nearly sixty, and he had come to see this place again at last. He was crying for the kids in the B-17, the youngsters who had staked their lives on their Flying Fortress. He hadn’t known he had pent up such a reservoir of emotion, even though he probably thought about the downing of the B-17 every day. He willed his tears to stop.

Lucien Lombard had seen the plane come down near the village, and he rushed to help the crew, but Marshall didn’t remember him.

Now Lucien said, “It is like yesterday.”

Marshall toed a weed-topped clod of dirt. “The worst day of my life,” he said. “Some bad memories.”

“Never mind, monsieur. It had its part.”

Several people were crossing the field, headed toward them. They had arrived in a gray van with the name of a hardware store on the side.

“Everyone from the village has heard of your visit,” said Lucien. “You are a hero.”

“Non. I did very little.” Marshall was ashamed.

Lucien introduced him to the group. They were all smiling at him and speaking rapidly. When Marshall could not follow some of their thickly accented French, Lucien explained that everyone there remembered the crash. Three families had sheltered members of the crew, and Dr. Bequet had treated the wounded.

“I’m very grateful,” Marshall said, shaking the doctor’s hand.

“It was necessary to help.”

More introductions and small talk followed. Marshall noticed two men scanning the ground. Lucien explained that people still found pieces of metal there—bullet casings, rivets, and once even a warped propeller blade. Marshall thought of how he had torn up the field when he came zigzagging down that day.

A man in a cloth cap and wool scarf stepped forward and touched Marshall’s arm.

“Oui, it is sad, monsieur,” the man said. He regarded Marshall in a kindly way and smiled. His face was leathery but younger than Marshall’s. He seemed familiar.

“You were the boy who helped me!” Marshall said, astonished.

“Oui. C’est moi.”

“You offered me a cigarette.”

The man laughed. His taut, weathered cheeks seemed to blush. “Bien sûr. I would never forget that day. The cigarettes I had obtained for my father.”

“That was my very first Gauloises,” Marshall said.

“You were my first Américain,” the man said, smiling. “I am Henri Lechat.”

They shook hands, the younger man first removing his glove.

“You warned me that the Germans were coming,” Marshall said.

Henri nodded. “It is true. You had no French then, and I had no English.”

“But I knew. We communicated somehow.”

Marshall’s voice broke on the word communicated.

“We will never forget, monsieur.”

“You told me to run,” Marshall said, recalling how he had stowed the cigarette in the inner pocket of his leather jacket. Now he felt his tears well up again.

Henri tugged on his scarf. “I told you to hide in the woods, and you comprehended.”

Recalling the boy’s urgency, Marshall tried to laugh. Henri had raced up, calling a warning. Pointing back the way he had come, he cried, “Les Allemands! Les Allemands!” Then, pointing to the woods in the other direction, he shouted, “Allez-y!” Marshall did not see any Germans, and he would not leave until all the crew was out. The bombardier was wounded in the shoulder, and the navigator had a shattered leg. The tail gunner appeared; he had hopped out easily. The left waist gunner was unconscious and had to be pulled from the fuselage window. Marshall was relieved to see the ball-turret gunner, who was limping toward the church with a man carrying a shovel. Someone said the right waist gunner had parachuted. The pilot was lying on the frozen ground, his eyes closed. Fire was leaping from the plane.

Marshall knelt by Webb, trying to wake him. Nothing. Someone squatted beside Marshall and opened Webb’s jacket.

“Docteur,” the woman said, pointing toward the village. She pointed in the opposite direction, toward the woods, and said, “Go.”

Marshall stood. The flight engineer appeared at his side. “Let’s go,” he said. “Everybody’s out.”

Several of the villagers were making urgent gestures toward the road. German troops would be here in moments. Marshall knew that they converged on every fallen plane, to arrest the Allied aviators and to salvage the wrecked metal for their own planes. The German fighter that had downed them was circling low overhead. Marshall began running toward the woods.

Had the Germans shot anyone from the village for helping the American flyers? Marshall wondered now, but he did not want to ask. He had tried to be sure all the crew were out, and then he left the scene. In the years after, he didn’t probe into the aftermath. He lived another life.

“We were so thankful to you, monsieur,” one of the men was saying. “When your planes flew over we knew we would be liberated one day.”

Marshall nodded.

A stocky woman with gray, thick hair and a genial, wrinkled face said, “The airplanes flying toward Germany in those days—there were hundreds of them. We rejoiced to see them crossing the sky.”

Henri kicked dirt from his leather boot. “I didn’t know at that age everything that was understood by the adults. But I knew the deprivation, the difficulties, the secrecy. Even the children knew the crisis.”

Cautiously, Marshall asked, “Did the Germans arrest anybody for helping us?”

“Oh, non, monsieur.” Henri paused. “Not that day.”

Lucien Lombard clasped Henri’s shoulder and said, “The father of this one was killed—shot on his bicycle, on his way home after convoying one of your aviateurs across the border to France.”

Henri said, “I had to grow up quickly. I had the responsibilities then for my mother and my sisters.”

Lucien said, “His family hid that aviateur in their barn for a time.”

Marshall recoiled. He could see the waist gunner lying motionless across the furrows. He saw himself running into the woods. He saw the boy’s face. The plane was on fire.

Marshall had decided to return to this place finally, knowing it was time to confront his past failure. He had expected to be alone in the field, and he had not thought anyone would remember. The news of the death of the boy’s father jolted him. He had never heard ...

Revue de presse

Praise for The Girl in the Blue Beret
 
"“The new novel from best-selling author Bobbie Ann Mason will send you dashing to the shelves to devour everything else she's ever written — it's that good. … Mason weaves a spellbinding tale of war, love and survival. … The Girl in the Blue Beret is not only a remarkable work of historical fiction, it's also storytelling at its best.” – Associated Press
 
“Ushering her readers back and forth across the decades, she perfectly weaves history with fiction.  In many ways the book is a tribute to these unsung civilians whose heroism often was never acknowledged by those they helped. [A] near-perfect war story.” – USA Today
“Mason has long been considered one of the finest writers of regional fiction — Kentucky is her home and inspiration — but her affecting new novel takes place in France, and she’s just as comfortable and insightful there…once again, Mason has plumbed the moral dimensions of national conflict in the lives of individual participants and produced a deeply moving, relevant novel.” –Washington Post
“Mason has given us a portrait of a man from a generation whose members were uncertain about the protocols of letting oneself feel. And she has lovingly captured the tone of bluff assertion still shared by veterans of that war. Marshall’s banality has the ring of truth; his awkwardness reveals much….The Girl in the Blue Beret is a work of remarkable empathy.” – New York Times Book Review
 
“To Curl Up with: A pilot shot down over France returns years later to search for the jeunne fille who rescued him.  Mason’s lovely tale, drawn from her [father-in-law’s] wartime experience, will resonate for many.” – Good Housekeeping
 
“The Girl in the Blue Beret is an impressive novel. Mason writes with confidence about integrity, memory, love, the war in Europe – and a likeable man. …Recommended for all historical fiction readers.” – Historical Novels Review
 
"[An] impressive, impassioned new novel. The unforgettable story, based on the author’s father-in-law’s wartime experiences, is a gripping tale of redemption." –Miami Herald
 
"A flight through the gripping, war-ravaged past and the discovery of love—Bobbie Ann Mason's moving novel is written with great clarity and insight."—Kim Edwards, author of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and The Lake of Dreams
 
“An elegant and eventually lovely story of war, need and apprehension.”—Roy Blount Jr., author of Alphabet Juice and Long Time Leaving
 
“Fascinating and intensely intimate….A touching novel about love, loss, war, and memory….profoundly revealing how the past haunts the present.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“An emotionally powerful story of the ruinous effects of war.”—Booklist
 
“[A] haunting novel... [with] rich setting, detail, and intimate character nuances….for fans of the award-winning author, World War II fiction, and novels with French settings. Highly recommended.”—Library Journal


Praise for Bobbie Ann Mason
 
“Bobbie Ann Mason is one of those rare writers who, by concentrating their attention on a few square miles of native turf, are able to open up new and surprisingly wide worlds for the delighted reader.”—The New York Review of Books, about Shiloh and Other Stories
 
“Brilliant and moving . . . a moral tale that entwines public history with private anguish.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review, about In Country
 
“A dramatic triumph . . . Synopsis cannot begin to do justice to the complexity, drama, and ultimate benevolence of Mason’s vision.”—Chicago Tribune, about Feather Crowns
 
“Sitting down with one of these stories may well be the next best thing to going home again.”—The Wall Street Journal, about Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail


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Amazon.com: 3.9 étoiles sur 5  71 commentaires
49 internautes sur 54 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Touching story of love and war 1 juillet 2011
Par Mary Verdick - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Cocky young U. S. Army pilot Marshall Stone has nine missions under his belt when his B-17 bomber is forced down in a Belgian field, near the French border, during World War Two. Struggling to escape the nearby German troops he flees into the woods and is helped by some ordinary citizens of the town, who are secret members of the Resistance. These incredibly brave people, young and old, and from all walks of life, daily put their lives on the line to help the U. S. and British airmen who have been shot down get back to their bases in England.

Stone remembers the great kindness he was shown and especially the unbelievable courage of these people. He especially remembers a teen-age girl in a blue beret, who guided him through war-torn Paris to meet his contacts. His escape route took him on a harrowing journey over the Pyrenees to Spain, but he made it back to his base and never looked back. Now a 60-year-old widower and anxious to make peace with his past, Stone returns to Belgium determined to find the brave people who saved his life so long ago. What follows is an amazing story of courage and redemption and another chance at love. And yes, he does find the girl in the blue beret, whose own story is both powerful and effecting.
16 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 The story had such potential 19 juillet 2011
Par Diane C. Kulik - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle
What a wonderful idea for a story, but the writing is so choppy; jumps from thought to thought with no connection. And the characters are so flat. I find Marshall to be not even likable; he seems unable to connect with his own children yet supposedly has this overwhelming desire to track down people he barely knew over 40 years before.

This book is easy to put down and not have any feeling of rushing back to find out what happened next. I'm about half way through and really only sticking with it because I have nothing else in the house I have not already read.
21 internautes sur 24 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Good, but not as great as some thought 10 juillet 2011
Par puffin - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
A funny mix of story based on actual events or diaries from people who lived through these times and fictional elements. More to recommend than to dislike, but I could never truly feel immersed in it. The ending seems tacked on. Wanted to believe that the girl could have risen so far above her torture, but I really don't buy it. Perhaps if she had had a great deal of therapy, but just turning off the memories, I don't buy this as real and I think it demeans the lasting effects of such horrific suffering. Having known Holocaust survivors, and sensed their deep insecurities and misery, I just can't buy such a miraculous healing--unless it happened for inexplicable reasons. Robert's descent into alcoholism seems closer to the reality of what I have seen. This was a terrible war and left a lot of crippled survivors. Read it, but question it! One virtue of the book is to reveal the suffering that members of the French resistance endured.
9 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Dull and Disappointing 28 septembre 2011
Par Miss Scarlet - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
The best thing about this book is its title. But unfortunately the book is not about the girl in the blue beret--or the girl on the bicycle, or the boy with the cigarettes, or the mysterious "Robert," or any of the many other members of the French resistance it cursorily mentions. It's about a self-centered American pilot trying to adjust to his enforced retirement and looking for the next woman to hit on.

There was a good story here, but it never came to life. In addition to one-dimensional characters, disconnected dialogue, and annoying redundancies, the sequence of events is deliberately muddled at the beginning, and the point of view remains distant throughout. I was completely bored until chapter 24 when the details of the forced landing are finally explained. The story of the girl in the blue beret does not begin until the end of chapter 42 (out of 60 chapters, mind you), and even then its narration is detached and perfunctory. The author missed her chance to create empathy for the characters and suspense about their fate by not introducing them as their younger selves earlier in the story. As it was, I didn't care if the retired pilot ever found the people who had helped him--or a new girlfriend. I just wanted the book to be over.
12 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Disappointed in this over-hyped book 31 octobre 2011
Par Mimbelina - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Forced into retirement by his beloved airline, Marshall Stone has lost his purpose in life. His thoughts turn to long suppressed memories of World War II and his experiences after crashing a plane behind enemy lines. He remembers with gratitude the people who aided his escape from the Nazis and decides to retrace his steps through Belgium and France. According to the Amazon.com review, "Marshall's search becomes a wrenching odyssey of discovery that threatens to break his heart--and also sets him on a new course for the rest of his life. In his journey, he finds astonishing revelations about the people he knew during the war--none more electrifying and inspiring than the story of the girl in the blue beret."

To be honest, I am forced to wonder if I'm the only reader who feels like the reviews are exaggerated praise for a humdrum work by well-established author. The writing is choppy and, though it tries to be emotionally evocative, never quite reaches the point of touching this reader's heart. Marshall is a very unsympathetic "hero." Self-absorbed and almost egotistic, he dully recounts his lackluster relationships with his now-deceased wife and children while obsessing over memories of women he encountered (and slept with) only briefly during the war. I tried to forgive his failings and write them off as realism, but his personality is otherwise as lackluster as his relationships and I just couldn't bring myself to get drawn into his story. His recollections of his past are as drably recounted as the rest of his narrative. Sad to say, I worked hard to like the novel, but I have failed miserably and am returning it to the library unfinished.
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