A Fashionable Twist on Sisters of the Resistance

BOOK REVIEW: Sisters of Resistance: A Novel of Catherine Dior’s Paris Spy Network

By Christine Wells / William Morrow Publishing

Reviewed by Alison P. Bouwmeester

The Reviewer – Cipher Brief Expert Alison P. Bouwmeester served for 28 years as a senior leader in CIA’s Directorate of Operations. After retiring, she spent nearly a decade as a senior business executive in the defense contracting industry, rising to VP for Business Development. In 2018, Alison became a Certified Professional Career Coach and founded Futurity to coach others through successful career transitions.

REVIEW – As a former operations officer, I have always been interested in hearing the stories of women who were involved in a substantive way in the field of intelligence, so I was drawn to review Sisters of the Resistance: A Novel of Catherine Dior’s Paris Spy Network for The Cipher Brief. I listened to the Audible version of the book, which allowed me to follow the story while on a long road-trip. It was particularly well-narrated.

Other than watching the British sitcom Allo! Allo! (which was a great comedy TV series), my exposure to stories about the French Resistance was limited to a few tales told by my father — a WWII veteran.  When I started listening to this audiobook, I quickly became engrossed in the story and enjoyed hearing about the lives of these heroic women. The book is a good mix of historical fiction and romance. Because of the fashion industry focus and details on the girls’ romantic feelings and relationships, however, I wonder if a male reviewer might find it less appealing.

The story begins in France in 1944 (and toggles back and forth to 1947).  It centers around the sisters Gabby and Yvette Foucher and the resistance support ring recruited by and surrounding Catherine Dior, sister of the famous fashion designer Christian Dior. Catherine Dior lives in the same apartment building as the Foucher sisters and their mother. Despite being featured in the book’s subtitle, however, Catherine Dior’s own story is not actually the main focus of this book. While her story is not as prominently described as the Foucher sisters, readers are given enough information about Catherine Dior to know that she was an important player in enlisting support for the French Resistance.

The early chapters of the book focus extensively on the bold and impulsive Yvette Foucher, the French fashion industry and haute couture. These early chapters effectively set the stage to understand the path taken by this young woman to become a courier for the Resistance, and to show how she used her interest in high fashion and her relationship with the Dior family to support spying against the Nazi regime. Yvette eventually provides fashion deliveries to the famous (and controversial) French actress Mademoiselle Dulac, who is having an affair with a Nazi General. This connection provides Yvette with opportunities to serve the Resistance in a deeper capacity, but also makes her role for the Resistance much more dangerous and complicated.

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Yvette’s sister, the conscientious and practical Gabby Foucher, works as the concierge of their Paris apartment building. The book allows the reader to become acquainted with Gabby along with many of the interesting characters living at #10 Rue Royale. Over time, Gabby discovers that one of her beloved elderly tenants is secretly harboring an injured British soldier. He is hidden in a small room concealed behind a large cabinet in the woman’s apartment.  Gabby also eventually learns that several of the other tenants in the building are involved in supporting Resistance activities. When her favorite tenant dies unexpectedly, Gabby takes over the clandestine duties of nursing the hidden British soldier, and eventually falls in love with him.

What I liked most about this book was the “human interest” element of getting to know the characters in the book and hearing about their challenges and motivators. The Foucher sisters are likable characters. The weakest part of the story, in my opinion, was that the book chapters shifted back and forth in time between the past and the “present”, and often toggled between the main characters and their separate stories. I found this somewhat confusing in the audio book version of the story. I also found the early chapters to be heavily focused on the high fashion industry, which was not very relatable and detracted from getting to the main story.

I enjoyed listening to Sisters of the Resistance and recommend it. It’s entertaining, with realistic elements about the power of ordinary citizens in resistance movements.  I appreciated the effort that went in to writing this book and look forward to reading additional stories about the role of women in the French Resistance.

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