Author: Bobbie Ann Mason
Price: $26.00 (Cloth)
03/26/2012 Bobbie Ann Mason is and has been for 30 years the premier Kentucky writer. Born and raised in western Kentucky, she attended U.K. and then, after a number of years in New York and Connecticut, working in publishing and earning a Ph.D. at U. Conn., returned to Kentucky. She has recently retired from her position as writer in residence at her alma mater.
Mason has written a memoir of Kentucky childhood, "Clear Springs," as well as 5 novels, 3 volumes of stories, "The Girl Sleuth," (a guide to girl detective novels such as Nancy Drew, her favorite reading as a child) and a short biography of Elvis Presley.
Readers may know Mason best for her first two books, the story collection "Shiloh" and "In Country." "In Country," put on the screen starring Bruce Willis, is the story of a girl who travels to Washington, D.C., with her stressed-out Vietnam-vet uncle on a pilgrimage to see her dad's name on the black onyx wall.
Mason in the 1960's and 70's had been moved by the sacrifices and the stories of boys she had known who went off to that war and didn't come back or came back changed, and in either case, forever altered the lives of their lovers and families and friends.
Now Mason, in "The Girl in the Blue Beret," is writing of another war, WWII. This novel was inspired by the story of her father-in-law, Barney Rawlings.
Mason's hero, Marshall Stone, based on Rawlings, is the pilot of a B-17, flying bombing missions over Germany. On January 31, 1944, he adroitly crash-lands his crippled plane in occupied Belgium, near the French border, and, with the help of the French resistance, ultimately makes his way south, over the Pyrenees, safely into Spain.
In the novel, 36 years later, in 1980, Marshall is 60 years old, living in Rahway, New Jersey. (Stone has roots in Kentucky, but no desire to return there.) He has just endured, resentfully, mandatory retirement from the airline he flew for. Stone is a widower, his wife having died some 5 years earlier, and is not close to his grown son or daughter. Flying jumbo jets around the globe, literally, on routes to Europe and Asia, he had spent little time at home.
Disconsolate, at very loose ends, Stone decides to return to France and seek out the brave men and women, boys and girls really, who had risked their lives to hide him from the Germans in barns and safe houses, using a network much like the antebellum American Underground Railroad, and get him first to Paris and then all the way to Spain. He brushes up his French and dives back into his library of World War II books. Stone will retrace his own steps, find out what happened to these strangers who risked their lives for him, and thank them if he can.
The search is a kind of detective story. It has been 36 years, after all, besides which, members of the resistance often used code names, noms de guerre. But Stone perseveres, rents an apartment in Paris, and follows the clues that he does have.
He learns slowly what enormous risks these French patriots had taken and what savage consequences ensued for those who were caught. Over some weeks, Stone finds his saviors and comes to learn their individual stories, especially the life history of one of his guides, the girl in the blue beret.
She was 18, is now 54, and her husband has recently died. She, like Stone, has come to a cold, hard, lonely place in her life. The reader is not surprised, and is in fact pleased, as the detective story becomes a love story. Stone and Annette share their tales, hers being by far the more traumatic, and travel to the Pyrenees together to hike over the mountains into Spain and thus to the freedom to start a new life.