Posts from the “Books” Category

Overnight Code on Good Morning America

Posted on March 31, 2021

I tend to make a lot of lists. Grocery lists. To-do lists. Books-I’d-Like-To-Read lists. Books-I’d-Like-To-Write Lists. And so on and so forth. These lists keep me from forgetting important things, but they also keep me focused.

Before Overnight Code came out in January, I made a list of things that I hoped would happen for this book. Then David and I went about our business talking to groups, giving media interviews, chatting with book clubs and doing Zoom events with bookstores. We’ve had some wonderful support along the way, everyone from booksellers, to his university, to reporters, and friends who have enlisted us to speak to their book club, their enormous law firm, the political science department at their HBCU, etc. We’re grateful for everything that has been happening for this book and take none of it, and no reader, for granted.

If you’ve read this far, thank you a million times from the bottom of my heart for supporting David, me, and Overnight Code. It has been a tremendous privilege and honor to share this story with you. It has also been a great amount of fun for us both.

Now…

There was one thing I really wanted and I wrote it down on my list. I wanted Raye Montague’s story to return to Good Morning America. It’s where Raye first got big national attention in February 2017, when she talked about her life as the U.S. Navy’s Hidden Figure. It’s what got a certain special literary agent’s attention, which, in turn, led to Overnight Code. It’s responsible for launching the Paige and David literary show that has been running hard since January 12, 2021. A lot of things started there, on that show, and I had this twitchy little feeling that things needed to come full circle. I began pitching the book to them, looking for different angles each time. After a couple of tries, I heard nothing. I wasn’t surprised because it is a large, national show with a lot of busy people. But last week, I pitched it again, and a producer got back to us. At that point, things started moving really fast and feeling really unreal. They interviewed us. We sent them photographs and five copies of the book that didn’t arrive, and one copy of the book that did. Even though all of these signs seemed to point to them committing to the story, the nervous part of me knew that something could happen and the segment about Overnight Code could get bumped. So I didn’t want to tell anyone about it.

Because what if…

This past Monday, fifteen minutes before the end of the show, they aired this segment. It was exciting enough to see Robin Roberts hold up a copy of our book…

…but when I saw it on the Jumbotron outside GMA’s Times Square studio, I almost had a heart-attack. I just couldn’t believe it, and still can’t. But I am tremendously grateful to Robin Roberts, her producer Danielle Genet, and the rest of the GMA crew for helping us share this story with the nation. Somewhere, up above, Raye Montague is looking down on all of this, smiling. She’s not only getting her due, but lifting others up in the process.

The Raye Montague Challenge

Sunday, March 28 was Raye Montague Day in Little Rock, and David read Julia Finley Mosca’s The Girl With a Mind for Math to children via a Zoom event with Pyramid Art, Books and Custom Framing. Pyramid has become one of my favorite independent bookstores, and its owner, Garbo Hearne, has been a tremendous supporter of Overnight Code. On Sunday, Ms. Hearne issued a challenge to Central Arkansas: by next year’s Raye Montague Day, she wants to see a copy of The Girl With a Mind for Math and Overnight Code in every school and community organization library in the state. The Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority has already kicked off the challenge by purchasing and donating 100 books, and we are grateful to them for getting things going. Ms. Hearne wants Raye Montague to be a household name in Arkansas, and we thank her for that. Here’s hoping people are up for the challenge, not just there, but all over the nation, too.

 

Raye Montague’s Struggle in the South

Posted on March 15, 2021

Last week, David Montague and I finished a run-through for a big virtual book talk we would be giving at University of Arkansas at Little Rock Downtown. The talk incorporated some archival items David and his family gave to the Center for History and Culture that are now on display. At the end of the run-through, UALR Downtown director Ross Owyoung asked us if we wanted to see the exhibit, and David and I both said yes, of course. So Ross grabbed his laptop (where I was connected via Zoom) and walked into the gallery with David.

At the time, the room’s walls were covered by a curtain, and as moving as it was to see Raye’s life in exhibit form, I wondered what the curtain concealed. So I asked Ross about it, and he asked me if I knew who Joe Jones was. I did not. Ross pulled back the curtain to show us the incredibly thought-provoking, 44-foot by 9-foot mural Jones painted called “Struggle in the South.” Completed in 1935, the mural is one of Jones notable protest works about the Jim Crow era, as it depicts black coal miners, sharecroppers and a lynching.

“I’m not interested in painting pretty pictures to match pink and blue walls,” Jones said in 1933. “I want to paint things that knock holes in walls.”

Without question, the mural — which has been lovingly restored by UALR — packs a punch. As David looked at it, and thought about it for a minute, he turned to Ross and said the mural shouldn’t be covered at all. After all, his mother’s life was part of the struggle Jones depicted, and so the two elements should be in conversation with each other, so to speak.

If you’re in Little Rock, I hope you can stop by UALR Downtown between now and March 31 to see what I’m talking about. Even if you miss the exhibit about David’s mom, this mural will remain in place, and is definitely worth your time.

UA Little Rock to host March 11 Conversation with David Montague, Paige Bowers

Posted on March 3, 2021

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock will host a virtual conversation with authors David Montague and Paige Bowers to discuss their new book on the life and legacy of the U.S. Navy’s ‘Hidden Figure’ Raye Montague.

The event, “Overnight Code: A Conversation with Paige Bowers and David Montague,” will take place from 12:30-1:30 p.m. Thursday, March 11. Donna Terrell, the award-winning anchor of FOX16 News since 2004, will moderate the conversation.

“It is a privilege for the UA Little Rock Downtown Center and the Center for Arkansas History and Culture to work with David Montague and Paige Bowers to bring the extraordinary life of Raye Montague to our community through their discussion and the rich assortment of archival material that her family so kindly gifted to the university,” said Dr. Deborah Baldwin, associate provost of collections and archives at UA Little Rock. “Raye Montague’s story is an inspiration to all of us and a legacy to be protected.”

Montague, executive director of online learning and faculty mentoring at UA Little Rock, and Bowers, a nationally published news and features writer, released “OVERNIGHT CODE: The Life of Raye Montague, the Woman Who Revolutionized Naval Engineering,” in January.

The book tells the story of Montague’s mother, Dr. Raye Montague, an internationally registered professional engineer with the U.S. Navy who is credited with creating the first computer-generated rough draft of a U.S. naval ship.

UA Little Rock Downtown and the Center for Arkansas History and Culture are co-hosting the event in celebration of Women’s History Month and Diversity Month. In addition to the virtual conversation, UA Little Rock Downtown is hosting an exhibit of materials on display from the center’s Raye Montague Collection as well as some items donated from David Montague. The collection can be seen at UA Little Rock Downtown from March 11-31.

“We are grateful to UA Little Rock for hosting us in what promises to be a very special book talk,” David Montague and Paige Bowers said. “Not only will we be able to discuss the narrative arc of Raye Montague’s remarkable life, but we will be able to further illuminate it with her personal artifacts that are being lovingly preserved at the Center for Arkansas History and Culture. Archives like these are vitally important to the community at large, giving us tangible reminders of who we are and what we can become. Raye’s collection there is perfect proof of that.”

The collection includes Montague’s awards from the Arkansas Women’s Hall of Fame, the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, the Arkansas Academy of Computing, and the National Computer Graphics Association. They also include a scrapbook and sweatshirt from Montague’s sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, and a framed photograph of a battleship that Montague designed digitally.

The event is free and open to the public and can be viewed via Zoom at ualr.at/overnightcode.

Book Review: Lady In Waiting by Anne Glenconner

Posted on March 24, 2020

Anne Glenconner, the firstborn child of the 5th Earl of Leicester, was considered a royal disappointment because she was not born a boy. Because she was born a girl, she wouldn’t be able to inherit one of Britain’s largest estates. Yet being female certainly did not mean that Glenconner wouldn’t live a life that was at turns remarkable, hilarious, and truly devastating. In her memoir, Lady in Waiting, Glenconner looks back over her life, in which she befriended the future Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret at a very young age, and later became Margaret’s lady-in-waiting. Because of this rarified position, Glenconner is able to provide colorful, deftly written anecdotes about the British aristocracy during and after World War II, the early reign of Elizabeth II, and her private moments with Princess Margaret, who she said she “laughed with more than anyone else.” Where some writers might portray Margaret as a poorly behaved party girl, Glenconner shows readers her kinder, gentler side, building empathy for a woman who lost her father to death and her older sister to duty one right after the other.

But this is not just about Glenconner’s fly-on-the-wall recollections. It’s also a more personal tale about her struggles to find love, her marriage to an unfaithful, mercurial man who left her nothing after his death, and the tragedy of losing two sons — one to AIDS, the other to hepatitis C. Although she was well b0rn, and was Margaret’s right-hand woman, she was also a wife, mother, and woman trying to make sense of a world that was changing around her. Reading this incredibly well-written book, one senses the tales within are but the tip of the iceberg. What lies within these pages should be a Netflix series, or a bit of Masterpiece Theater. It’s a story well-told, full of charming description, and bottomless reserves of resilience. Glenconner writes: “I try not to dwell on the sad things in my past, instead concentrating on the present, trying to make the most of my life.” What a life it has been. Fans of The Crown will eat this up. I know I did. Much gratitude to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an early proof of this book in exchange for this honest review.

 

The Splendid and the Vile

Posted on March 2, 2020

When author Erik Larson moved from Seattle to Manhattan a few years ago, he thought about how the September 11 attacks were a profoundly different experience for New Yorkers than they were for those who witnessed the horrors unfold from afar. His musings led him to think about another attack on a hometown — London during the Blitz of 1940-1941 — and how the locals might have endured it. The more Larson wondered about the impact of these assaults, especially on the newly minted prime minister, Winston Churchill, his family and his friends, the more he realized he had the topic for his next book.

“I…quickly came to realize that it is one thing to say ‘Carry On,’ quite another to do it,” he writes. And in The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, And Defiance During the Blitz, Larson paints a fresh portrait of Churchill in his first year as prime minister, showing readers how the cigar-chomping leader taught the British to carry on and be brave in a time of unspeakable horrors. Using diaries, archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports that were recently released, Larson tells the story of this time in novelistic detail, illustrating the day-to-day experience of the British people, as recounted in part through Mass-Observation Diaries.

Larson said he didn’t know about Mass-Observation until he embarked upon this book, and I certainly didn’t know about it either until he brought it up. I jotted it down as he spoke, making a note to myself to look into it further. The backstory: Mass-Observation was an organization launched in Britain a couple of years before the war and it enlisted volunteers to keep daily diaries about their lives. The diarists were encouraged to be as specific as possible in their entries, and they were sometimes even given prompts to guide their daily accounts. The goal was to help sociologists better understand British life at that time. Larson deftly used these diaries to bring the thoughts, dreams and fears of ordinary Britons to life. Of all the things that kept me glued to this book this past weekend (and there were many, many things), I particularly enjoyed his deft use of these diaries.

One diarist wrote that if she had to spend her whole life with a man, she’d choose Neville Chamberlain, Churchill’s predecessor.

“But I think I would sooner have Mr. Churchill if there was a storm and I was shipwrecked,” she added.

She got her storm and her wish.

The morning after Larson spoke at the Carter Center last week, I got up at 5:30 a.m. to sift through the online database of Mass-Observation diaries, finding in it a treasure trove of people of different genders, ages, marital statuses and professions right at my fingertips. I thought about how amazing it was to have all this there, and wondered how many countries have done something just like it. This is the kind of stuff you want when you’re writing a book, and it’s the kind of stuff Larson always finds to make his magic. I really enjoyed The Splendid and the Vile; it unfolded like a movie. And I especially enjoyed meeting Erik Larson and hearing him talk about his craft.

 

Resilience and The Art of Resistance

Posted on January 27, 2020

A few years ago, I spent my days delving into accounts written by Nazi resisters of all stripes. Some of them were women, most of them were young, and all of them were willing to risk their lives to stop the oppression and hate that were slithering across the European continent. It’s also safe to say they were all put into positions where they were forced to be resilient.

Sometimes these fighters drew strength from their faith in the cause, or their faith in a higher power that would guide them when things got tough. Other times, these men and women were empowered by the knowledge that they were not alone, that others were suffering alongside them and they, too, shared their beliefs.

And then there’s 98-year-old Justus Rosenberg, who chalked his resilience up to a confluence of circumstances that allowed him to keep going when times got hard.

With The Art of Resistance (William Morrow), Rosenberg offers a poignant account of his time as a young resister in France during World War II. Born in Danzig to Jewish parents, Rosenberg recounts his early memories of Nazis coming through his town, tormenting and insulting local Jewish residents and businesspeople. Upset, one day Rosenberg tells his father about what he’s witnessed in town, to which his father counsels him not to be concerned because “that’s what they want probably.” Once his father realizes how dire the situation has become, he and his wife decide to send Justus to France for his own safety, and for one of the best possible educations he could get in Europe. In turn, they would do what they can to get to Palestine. Once Rosenberg is nestled in Paris studying literature, the Nazis launched their war on the continent. Rosenberg, like so many other young and idealistic students of the time, decides that he must “do something” to fight this and he embarks on a daring four years as a courier, a cog in the wheel of the American Emergency Rescue Committee (which ferried several prominent Jewish artists to safety), a recruiter, an intelligence officer, and then a warrior in the ragtag maquisards, so named for the scrub in which they hid. He says he survived due to luck, an ability to detect danger, his skills learned as a guerrilla fighter, and the appearance of the right people at the right time.

Rosenberg’s story is compelling and important, especially in a tumultuous time like ours when there is hatred, intolerance and a lust for unchecked power. Then as now, as long as these things exist, there will be heroes, and Rosenberg is certainly one of them as readers will see in this engaging book.

Netgalley provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is my honest opinion.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

Posted on January 10, 2020

I spent a week in Little Rock, Arkansas last July, working with David Montague on the book we’re doing about his mother Raye. Raye was a Hidden Figure of the U.S. Navy, known for being the first person to design a ship with a computer. But she was also a well-known, and beloved speaker to all manner of groups about engineering, doing well in school, and her truly remarkable life.

David and I spent part of that week holed up in his office at the University of Arkansas Little Rock talking and going through some of his mother’s papers, photos, and personal effects. As we shuffled through folders and photo albums, multiple copies of the following quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland fluttered to the floor:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where –,” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if only you walk long enough.”

Some people walk and walk and walk in life, only to go in circles and ultimately nowhere at all. Sometimes it’s because they haven’t had enough guidance and support. Sometimes it’s because they’ve simply quit because the effort felt too daunting. Raye Montague, from a very early age, had an idea of the direction she wanted to walk – engineering – and didn’t stop walking until she reached her destination. Along the way she faced her share of trials and tribulations, but she never viewed them as a roadblock. She saw them as challenges that she needed to overcome so that she could keep going, achieving, and ultimately bringing others along with her on her journey. Yes, she was an engineer in the male-dominated Navy, and it was inspiring that she was able to achieve all that she did during her career. But for me, engineering is not the entire story.

What fascinated me even more than the artform Raye learned to master on the job was her unbelievable resilience in the face of all manner of obstacles and odds that weren’t necessarily in her favor. She lived a life aware of these factors, but undaunted by them as she pressed ahead and onward.

Raye’s life is a fabulous case study about what it takes to overcome challenges, bounce back from failures and heartbreaks, and press forward…somewhere…even in hard times. David and I are looking forward to introducing his mother to you in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing some stories and studies here from time to time about resilience — what it is, why we need it, how we develop it, and more. The World Health Organization has made resilience a top priority in 2020, and researchers are finding that it’s an increasingly important factor in our health and wellness. This is some writing I originally trotted out on Substack, but I found it difficult to keep it going at that spot, primarily because it was one more place to log into and maintain. Still, I wanted to keep looking at the idea from time to time, so I decided it would be best to do it here.

Let me know if you have any questions or stories you’d like to see on the matter. In  the meantime, I’ll keep poking around and share anything interesting I find.

 

Dispatch from Someone Who Has Just Hit Send

Posted on November 11, 2019

Recently, I had lunch with a friend who I’ve known since college. We did the usual catching up about kids, spouses, jobs and our mutual desire to own an Airstream and cruise the country taking in the sights. And then she asked me to tell her about the book I’ve been working on with Raye Montague’s son, David, for the past year. The details tumbled out of my mouth in a sea of “and then this happened…and that happened…and the learning curve was steep and the deadline felt so tight, even though I turned in the book early, and…sometimes it felt so hard, but I learned so much and grew so much and I’m so grateful and wow.”

Amazing storytelling, I know.

The book has been with our editor for more than a week now. We have yet to get his feedback, other than to know that he really wanted to bring a story about an engineer to market, as he came from a family of engineers himself. Our agent sent us a very kind email about the manuscript. That has given us a little wind in our sails.

Things are good. Life is good. I am happy with where we find ourselves at this moment, with this book. There is more to do, of course, but I am grateful for where we are. I’m following an interesting path right now and, fortunately for me, it’s not all that dissimilar from following my heart. Although I did go back to school to study one particular aspect of history that fascinated me, there are a lot of other things that fascinate me too. Working on this book has taken me on a journey I couldn’t have expected, and it has been for the best. I’m excited in a way I haven’t been for some time about whatever comes next, storytelling wise.

So, I’m just curious: Is there any path you’ve followed that has, in some people’s eyes, meandered, but made perfect sense to you, either at the time or in retrospect? What was it and how did it make you stronger, and put you on the road to becoming the person you are today? Or, did the path you began to follow take you somewhere you never could have imagined possible? If so, what was it? I’d love to hear about it. Don’t hesitate to leave me your account in comments, or email me from my contact page.

Also, now that I’ve come out from underneath my manuscript rock, I’d love to answer any questions you may have for me. Please don’t hesitate to reach out!

***

Some things I’ve been seeing and doing:

  • If you have the chance to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates speak about his new book, The Water Dancer, do not miss it. I saw him speak with Tayari Jones last week, and I could have listened to them both for days.
  • A former colleague of mine has a Twitter feed for Rupert, her sourdough bread starter, and you can typically find me drooling over the loaves she posts online. Bread lover and Francophile that I am, I recently purchased Apollonia Poilane’s debut cookbook Poilane: The Secrets of the World Famous Bread Bakery, because I am on a mission to recreate those beautiful breads here at home. I’m usually a terrible baker, but so far…so good. Knock wood, or at least the bottom of the boule…
  • Last Friday, I heard the Atlanta Symphony perform Tchiakovsky’s Violin Concerto in the morning, before seeing a member preview of Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech” at the High Museum of Art. Having moved back to town a year ago, I’m not sure if the ASO does matinees on a regular basis, but this one was packed, and I’d definitely go again if they put another on the schedule. The Abloh exhibit is worth seeing, in part because of his relatively new role as creative director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear line, but also because of the way he has made his mark across a number of creative disciplines. If you’re in Atlanta or nearby, check it out before it closes on March 8, 2020.
  • I spent part of a truly gorgeous Saturday at the Decatur Wine Festival with friends, where I lucked into a primo magnum of Cabernet, before heading back home to watch an LSU/Alabama game that pleased me to no end.

Some book news…

Posted on November 8, 2018

When I was in the midst of moving back to Atlanta, my agent contacted me about a story that really needed to be told. It was about an African-American woman named Raye Montague, who engineered her way out of the Jim Crow South to become the first person to draft a Naval warship design by computer. The idea was that I’d complete a proposal (quickly), and if it sold, help her get her memories down (again quickly; she was 83) so we could get what promises to be a marvelous and truly inspirational book about a Hidden Figure out to market. Over the course of the summer and into fall, I’ve gotten to know and truly love Raye and her son David, as I started working with them to create what was originally intended to be her memoir.

About a month ago, Raye fell ill and went into hospice. She died October 10, and after months of talking to her and getting to know her, my heart absolutely broke. Her son’s heart broke. So many people whose lives she touched…their hearts broke. Raye was brilliant, strong, inspirational and so goddamn funny. She was a great storyteller, which was a delight for someone like me. Now, her son David and I will be working together to co-author her biography, which is tentatively titled KICK LIKE THE DEVIL. It’ll be published by Chicago Review Press, just like my first book was, and I think I can safely that I and David – my friend David – are chomping at the bit to share the life of this amazing woman with you. Stay tuned…and thank you.

How Dunkirk Brought the de Gaulles Together Before France Fell

Posted on August 1, 2017

Christopher Nolan’s World War II tour de force “Dunkirk” has captivated moviegoers and reviewers since its release on July 21. It’s the story of the harrowing, heroic rescue of 400,000 Allied troops from the French port city of Dunkirk after German forces stormed into the country. Nolan’s film focuses on the rescue mission itself, not the aftermath in France. In THE GENERAL’S NIECE: THE LITTLE-KNOWN DE GAULLE WHO FOUGHT TO FREE OCCUPIED FRANCE , I write about the havoc Dunkirk wrought on the French population, and how it brought the de Gaulle family together before their beloved country fell to the Nazis. Here is an excerpt:

***

If there was to be a last stand in France against the German forces that laid waste to the country, some military men believed that it would take place in windswept Brittany. Xavier waited for his marching orders that June in a home that teemed with family members. Armelle, her two small children, Genevieve, and Roger awaited the arrival of Xavier’s frail, eighty-year-old mother, Jeanne, who was fleeing German attacks on the port of Le Havre, not far from where she lived with her daughter, Marie-Agnes; son-in-law, Alfred Cailliau; and their children. Jeanne had been a widow since May 3, 1932, when her husband, Henri, died at age eighty-two. In the years after Henri’s passing, Jeanne’s health had begun to decline too, and she became consumed with seeing her sons before war separated them again.

It was not an easy feat, given the situation on the ground. The German Luftwaffe had begun bombing Le Havre on May 19, 1940, and continued their attacks for the next two evenings. British troops fired antiaircraft guns as Nazi planes dropped bombs on warehouses, factories, shipyards, and Le Havre itself. When large numbers of Dutch and Belgian refugees began arriving in the town by train, locals panicked and thought that the Germans were winning. A dark mood descended over the public as air-raid sirens became commonplace.

The bombing continued in June when the British began evacuating at Dunkirk. Not all troops could be rescued, so they escaped to other ports along the country’s northern coast, striving to find a way back to England. Nazi planes tried to prevent their return by bombing Le Havre ten more times. Bedlam ensued as local officials tried to evacuate residents. Many wanted to flee incoming Nazis by heading for Brittany, but trains could not long travel in that direction because they had to go through the train station in Rouen, which was almost sixty miles to the east. That station was closed, but Jeanne was so determined to see her boys that she traveled 475 miles south to Grenoble to see her son Jacques before getting one of her grandsons to drive her 571 miles north to see Xavier.

After Jeanne’s arrival in Paimpont, nineteen-year-old Genevieve comforted the delicate old woman, whose anxiety gave way to vivid memories from her girlhood of France’s humiliation by the Prussians at Sedan in 1870. She felt like she was reliving those dark days, and her weakened heart couldn’t bear it. Her granddaughter reassured her that it wouldn’t happen like that, not again. Charles would come to visit his mother and Xavier’s family en route to London, where he’d meet with British prime minister Winston Churchill on June 15. After that visit Genevieve assured her grandmother that France would fight back — yes, right there in Brittany.

Brittany. The very shape of the peninsula on which the French army hung their dwindling hopes jutted out toward the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean like the hand of a drowning man begging for help. Two weeks before Petain’s radio address, the military devised a plan that would gather forces along Brittany’s Rance and Vilaine Rivers to fend off an enemy assault. As French troops kept up a stiff resistance along those rivers, allies from Great Britain could stream through the ports west of that line of defense to come to the country’s aid. A prolonged fight under this strategy would allow France to keep its lines of communication open with its allies and, in case of trouble, make it easier to relocate the state’s armed forces and government ministers to London or North Africa.

Two days after Petain addressed the nation, Charles de Gaulle, who had been recently appointed undersecretary of war and national defense, held secret meetings with commanders about the feasibility if this scheme. The overwhelming consensus: Such resistance was futile. There were simply not enough troops to hold off a German advance. General de Gaulle bid farewell to his wife and children. He was headed to London, he told them because things were very bad.

“Perhaps we are going to carry on the fight in Africa,” de Gaulle told his wife, Yvonne. “But I think it more likely that everything is about to collapse. I am warning you so that you will be ready to leave at the first sign.”

The signs were everywhere. After securing passports, Yvonne and the children left on June 18 to join Charles in England.

On the morning of June 18, Xavier de Gaulle and several other reservists were ordered to march west in an effort to regroup against the enemy. His family joined him on the crowded streets in an procession riddled with anger, shame and fear. All around them there was a growing feeling that whatever came next would be in vain. Genevieve lingered close to her grandmother, “this little old lady, dressed in black, so tiny and easy to miss,” so she didn’t fall behind and get lost in the crowd. Throughout the day the young woman reassured the matriarch, as she worked through her own tormented emotions about this turn of events.

By evening, they had walked forty miles to the town of Locmine and faced their first Nazi soldiers. They looked like war gods, Genevieve thought; their smart black uniforms and chiseled features exuded strength and pride as they breezed past on motorcycles and tanks. Some reservists cried because it was clear that there was no hope left and no will to fight this aggressor. As the crowd grew numb with dismay, a priest ran toward them from the other side of the town square. He was excited because he had just heard a French general speak on BBC radio.

“He said we may have lost a battle,” the priest cried, “but not the war. The general’s name was de Gaulle.”

Thrilled by the news, Jeanne de Gaulle, broke from the crowd and ran to the priest.

“Monsieur le Cure, that’s my son!” she cried as she tugged on the sleeve of his cassock. “That’s my son! He’s done what he ought to have done!”

A country away, Charles de Gaulle couldn’t have known how his mother reacted to his decision to offer France another way, but Genevieve remembered the moment as one of her grandmother’s last great joys. For Charles, it was a lonely affair, because as he heard himself speak into the BBC microphone, he realized his life would never be the same. Up until then he had been devoted to both the army and the nation he served. And yet he was not the sort of man to capitulate, which was why he had broken with his superiors and headed to London, to condemnation. At forty-nine years old, fate had lured him away from all his predictable patterns and responsibilities. He was obligated to the France he once knew, and he summoned his countrymen, uncertain of who might hear or put their trust in him.

Few people caught the general’s broadcast, but the ones who did began risking their lives to spread his word.

***

Excerpted from THE GENERAL’S NIECE: THE LITTLE-KNOWN DE GAULLE WHO FOUGHT TO FREE OCCUPIED FRANCEpublished by Chicago Review Press. Copyright 2017 by Paige Bowers. All rights reserved.