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October Meeting of the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club

October begins our new six-month session in the Narrative Nonfiction Book Club.  On the 4th, we started off stealthily, discussing Agent Garbo:  the brilliant, eccentric secret agent who tricked Hitler and saved D-Day by Stephan Talty.  There are several books on espionage during WWII, both factual and fictional, including Double Cross:  the true story of the D-Day spies by Ben Macintyre, another nonfiction account published around the same time ... on the same topic.  I considered having a WWII spy theme for this session, starting with the two books above, so we could compare viewpoints; but ultimately, I decided against it, as some members said they did not want to read about war for six months.  Consequently, the remaining books in this session are about completely unrelated topics.  They are: 

Finder’s Keepers:  a tale of archaeological plunder and obsession
by Craig Childs (discussion on November 1, 2013)

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
by Maya Angelou (discussion on December 6, 2013)

The Psychopath Test:  a journey through the madness industry
by Jon Ronson (discussion on January 3, 2014)

Sea Change:  alone across the Atlantic on a wooden boat
by Peter Nichols (discussion on February 7, 2014)

Bookseller of Kabul
by Åsne Seierstad (translated by Ingrid Christophersen) (discussion on March 7, 2014)

The discussion of Agent Garbo, a double agent for both the English and Germans, focused on what he was like as a man.  Garbo, a Spaniard whose real name was Juan Pujol Garcia, was a complex and interesting person with an unusual combination of being an ardent pacifist and wanting to fight against Hitler to save countless lives of people to which he had no connection.  He did this with his gift of being a terrific actor with a fantastic imagination.  He started by thinking like a German and determining what they wanted to know and how they wanted to receive information.  Then he created a flamboyant, charismatic character for himself, and a large network of fictitious subagents, each with their own backstory and intelligence to feed to the Germans.  He was able to convince them that Operation Overlord, the June attack on Normandy, France, was only a prelude to a much larger attack planned for Pas de Calais, further north on the coast.  The Germans had such faith in Garbo, whom they code named Arabel, that they kept their forces in Calais, and even diverted one unit to Calais that was en route to the attack at Normandy, based on his highly regarded intelligence ... an amazing feat of deception! We also compared the intelligence agencies from both countries and the tools of the spying trade.

None of us had read a nonfiction book about spies before and were surprised to learn about the complexity of being a double agent and the commitment it demanded of the spies as well as their families. We found it a very interesting and informative book that was well worth the read.  Two women in the group were sharing it with their husbands at home, who also gave thumbs up.  One avid reader is planning on reading Double Cross by Ben Macintyre to see how his account of the D-Day spies differs.

We always welcome new members to the group.  If you would like to read Finder’s Keepers with us next month, contact the reference department for a copy.  (508-457-2555 ext. 6, or text 66746 and start your question with “askfpl”

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