Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Many are the people eager and willing to forget the history of yesteryear, but thankfully there remain authors such as Larry Loftis who believe in the importance of knowing about our past and the heroes in it. In CODE NAME: LISE, Loftis returns once again to the Second World War to tell the story of Odette Sansom, a mother of three daughters who became an invaluable Allied intelligence officer and perhaps one of the most celebrated members of the British Special Operations Executive. Sabotaging, spying, and surviving torturous imprisonment, she became the first woman to be awarded both the George Cross and appointed as a Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur.
Table of contents
Larry Loftis Plunges into Covert Operations
When we think about war heroes in a vast sense, we tend to lean towards brave soldiers, decorated generals, daring pilots… basically, the people who at some point have been trained and bred to fight wars. However, textbooks often omit depicting the entirety of the war machine and the countless different components which come together and allow it to work as efficiently as it does.
While the great battles are what captivate most people, in truth a large number of crucial battles were fought under the cover of shadow and subterfuge, and in many cases by people who never believed themselves capable of the feats they have achieved. In his latest book titled CODE NAME: LISE, Larry Loftis presents us with just such a person, chronicling the incredibly captivating life of Odette Sansom.
After briefly covering her childhood and upbringing, the book takes us to the start of the Second World War, at which point Odette lives in Great Britain and moves to Somerset with her three daughters to escape the London bombings, all while her husband was shipped off to battle. Loftis recounts the unusual story of her recruitment into the Special Operations Executive, detailing the profound training she received and the unusual personalities she encountered along the way. From there on out, the book’s pace slows down in a sense as the story shifts towards her deployment in Germany-occupied France to work as a courier.
Loftis takes the time to acquaint us in great detail with the operations she participated in all the way until her capture by the Germans stemming from an infiltrated Nazi counter-intelligence officer. The book then takes us on a journey through her imprisonment, first at the Fresnes Prison and subsequently at the Ravensbruck (Ravensbrück) concentration camp. The book comes into its closing phase after that, exploring her life after the war, both personal and professional, as well as the sort of legacy she left behind for the world to see.
The Real World War II Thriller
If I was to start reading this book without any sort of knowledge on the topic, I would probably assume, for a little while at least, I was reading a work of fiction, and I mean this in the most complimentary way possible. It’s an entire challenge in and of itself to recount historical events in a way which can capture the audience’s attention and retain it for the entire duration, and Loftis overcame it by essentially approaching this biography as if it was a novel, at least in terms of structure and narration.
Rather than presenting facts and events in a dry fashion one after the other, he uses his wordsmithing capabilities to their fullest extent to give anything he discusses a tangible impact. We feel Odette‘s anxiety, excitement, adrenaline, fear, sadness and strength as her journey from simple mother to keystone spy to national heroine is described both very accurately and vividly.
To some extent, it was probably easier to give Odette Sansom‘s life a novelized quality than it would have been for most other people. Her biography does indeed sound like something taken straight out of an old spy movie, and in my opinion this stands as a huge reason as to why CODE NAME: LISE is so appealing.
All the events presented here are purely factual and can be confirmed through external sources, and as the reader it gave me the impression I was peering through a window into the impossible, a realm where life exceeds the expectations of fantasy. If we are to look at this book solely from an entertainment perspective, I can only assert it provides it in droves as an extraordinary life meets the author’s exceptional writing prowess.
The War Machine Under a Microscope
While Code Name: Lise can certainly only be read for its amusement factor, I think most would agree with me such an approach would be a huge waste of potential, especially considering the amount of research the author put into it. These types of biographical works always present curious perspectives on some of the more overlooked aspects of war, at least when it comes to mainstream textbooks.
Personally-speaking, from the moment Loftis began describing the training Odette received as a potential member of the Special Operations Executive I found myself hooked for some more historical education. All the details about the little things they were trained to do, the unlikely scenarios they were meticulously prepared for and the overall function of an organization hidden totally in the shadows were simply astounding to me… and at this point I’m not entirely convinced the author wasn’t there himself.
Apart from that we also get a solid historical run-down of the clandestine operations she undertook, how the German counter-intelligence division functioned, and of course the now-infamous treatment she received during her interrogations in prison as well as at the Ravensbruck concentration camp.
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While the book still retains its narrative structure, during these segments the reality of what we are reading jumps out at us and more than ever we remember these atrocities truly did happen. There are indeed some heavy moments bound to stay with you for a while, and I believe they should and will forever be unavoidable when discussing the Second World War. For the inclusion of these moments alone I believe Loftis deserves some commendation; if we let the atrocities of the past be forgotten, we only become likelier to commit them again.
The Final Verdict
With CODE NAME: LISE, Larry Loftis achieved something few authors can do as masterfully: merging a novel-like narrative and factual biography into one. He tells the inspiring story of a mother who wanted to do more and against all odds became a crucial cog in the Allied sabotage and intelligence operations.
At the same time, he provides a wide and crystal-clear window into the inner workings of various aspects of the Second World War, many of them beyond the interest of mainstream textbooks and media. All in all, this book is at best an invaluable treasure trove of information for those interested in the Second World War, and at worst a captivating spy story centred on one of the more remarkable people of her time period. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in WWII, especially those craving a more profound understanding of less prominent elements.
Larry Loftis is an American author and attorney who has been published in Law Review journals such as the University of Florida Law Review and the Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law.
Additionally, he has also published a book in the realm of non-fiction, Into the Lion’s Mouth , chronicling the exploits of severely-overlooked World War II spy Dusko Popov.