Rosie Raja: Churchill’s Spy

Written by Sufiya Ahmed
Review by Louise Tree

In 1941, eleven-year-old Rosie is a Muslim princess growing up amidst the Indian struggle for independence from British imperial rule. When her mother dies, her English father uproots Rosie to England, where she finds the gardens dull, the food plain and the rain cold. She does not understand why her father went away while her mother was sick or why he brought Rosie to England after her death. There is a mystery to her father’s reticence, his absences, and the strangers who visit him. Rosie determines to discover his secrets and finds herself flung into his sabotage mission in Occupied France.

Sufiya Ahmed has previously written about Noor Inayat Khan, agent for the Special Operations Executive in wartime France, so we find here authentic details of covert operations and cameos from historical SOE coordinators, Vera Atkins and Winston Churchill. Indian cultural history beats beneath Rosie’s reaction to her English home while the political context—

civil dissent in India and a brutal war in Europe—forces Rosie to adjust her life to uncontrollable forces. Rosie’s family involvement in the Indian independence movement provides a reflective thread which invites the young reader to consider the reasons for resistance to different forms of political domination. The ethical dilemmas which Rosie experiences emerge convincingly from lives under military occupation as she discovers the motivations of ordinary people who resist the regime. This brings complexity to the story.

There are some distracting stage directions as characters speak, but the young reader learns interactively with Rosie how to use different kinds of secret code. This is a story not only of her undercover missions (rather than the spying of the title) but also of how her risk-taking allows Rosie and her father to understand each other again after so much loss.