Code Name Sapphire

Written by Pam Jenoff
Review by Joanne Vickers

Code Name Sapphire is a riveting tale of family love and devotion in 1942 occupied Belgium. The novel’s basic focus is an intrepid band of resistance fighters who have organized a network to rescue downed British airmen and take them across the Pyrenees to Spain. Their leader is a fearless and intelligent and very young woman named Micheline.  Her partner is her loyal brother, Matteo.  They are joined by Hannah Martel, a Jewish artist, who has escaped a Nazi attack in Berlin which took the lives of her fiancé and unborn child.  Hannah has fled to Brussels to find safety with her cousin Lily and her family, and she quickly joins the resistance network.

When the Germans start rounding up and deporting Belgian Jewish citizens, Hannah’s family is captured, and she appeals to the Sapphire group and Micheline for help. The story of Hannah’s family is the second story strand, and it is compelling. This novel is noteworthy for the complex presentation of its main women characters—Micheline, Hannah, and Lily.  Jenoff does an excellent job of developing each woman’s interior life. Individually, they struggle to maintain and balance strong personal loyalties with their fierce commitment to free their communities and country from Nazi oppression.  Their heroism is striking.

The plot builds on unexpected turns and tensions.  It does include some improbable twists and surprises, which dilute its realism, but the reader’s interest in the women is sustained. While these characters are fictional, Jenoff has based them on true stories of courageous individuals.