Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
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Larry Loftis Elucidates a Hidden History
Something tells me we’re going to be unearthing true stories from the Second World War still for many years to come, with there still being many people whose exploits have gone under the radar. Larry Loftis brought one of those people under the spotlight with his book CODE NAME: LISE, and more recently he has published a book revolving around Aline Griffith, titled The Princess Spy.
To begin with, while Griffith having did invent numerous segments of her life story, this book is indeed a non-fiction WWII biography. The author makes the attempt to differentiate truth from fiction, and all the information is properly sourced; whether it was ultimately real or not is another question up for debate (more on this below).
To give a bit of an introduction about the subject of this biography, Aline Griffith was once upon a time a young college graduate from suburban New York whose greatest desire in life was doing her part for her country during the Second World War. One evening, she meets a man by the name of Frank Ryan who offers her just the opportunity she was looking for.
So begins her career with the Office of Strategic Services, the CIA’s ancestor. After a bout of strict and diligent training, she is sent to work as a coder in Spain to help with secret communications. She quickly shows her worth, and begins to take on missions of increasing importance, and naturally, of increasing danger.
She even becomes tasked with infiltrating the upper layers of Spanish society, which brought her face-to-face with many high-ranking officials, diplomats and the like. While attending the glamorous parties, she establishes a profound espionage network and recruits agents to help the Allies counter the tactics employed by the Nazis in Madrid.
A Life Story Painted in Facts and Fiction in The Princess Spy
When it comes to writing the biographies of people whose exploits are clearly documented, it’s not very difficult to discern fact from fiction and knowing what you can trust. However, when it comes to writing the biographies of spies and other types of covert operatives, it suddenly becomes much more difficult to ascertain where imagination ends and truth begins.
It is true for some more than others, and in the case of Aline Griffith it’s about as true as it can get. The number of stories revolving around her exploits seem to have only increased over the years, generally following the pattern of becoming increasingly ridiculous, being completely unbelievable in some cases.
Like most people, I can’t ascertain how true the more extreme stories about Aline Griffith are, but it seems to me like Larry Loftis and I share the opinion they’re mostly, if not all fabricated. The author doesn’t try and depict her as a real-life Jane Bond who got into car chases and shootouts, but rather, as an incredibly strong and determined woman who used her wit and subversion tactics more than anything.
Even with the less believable elements taken out of her biography, Aline Griffith‘s life remains an extremely fascinating one with plenty of exciting information in its own right, if of course you enjoy the craft of espionage as much as I do.
Personally-speaking, I’m quite glad Loftis tried to stick to down-to-Earth accounts and stories about Griffith‘s life; I find it immeasurably more fascinating to observe games of cat-and-mouse as they would be played in the real world rather than the traditional type of action we all know (and some of us are tired of).
The Glamour of Espionage
Like many others who are publishing biographies nowadays, Larry Loftis has adopted more of a novelized structure for his book, recounting Aline Griffith‘s life as if it was the plot of a novel. I myself am a big fan of this sort of style, because after all, I think biographical works ought to set themselves apart from historical textbooks.
There aren’t really any literary tricks or unusual choices made by the author, offering a straightforward and chronological account of Griffith‘s life from her earlier years all the way to her activities after the war when she famously married the Count of Romanones.
The writing style of The Princess Spy is what makes it work, along with the various inconsequential bits of fictionalization Larry Loftis includes here and there. The text feels fairly upbeat and is anything but dry, filled with curious little details and eye-catching descriptions, preventing the experience from ever becoming stale, even during the moments when Griffith’s life calms down a little bit.
If there’s one aspect of the book I feel the author deserves a good bit of praise for, it’s the detailed depiction of Griffith‘s espionage work at the upper echelons of Spanish society. The contrast of the wealthy glamour and covert operations where people walk between life and death on a razor’s edge makes for an unforgettable expose of the sort of life and work we can generally only imagine.
|384||Atria Books||Feb. 9 2021||978-1982143862|
While I wouldn’t say it reads like a thriller, it is definitely written in a very accessible way, which I think is especially important for readers who have a general aversion to historical topics or non-fiction in general.
The Final Verdict
The Princess Spy by Larry Loftis is an excellent biography of a lesser-known contributor to Allied intelligence services, mixing in loads of facts with little bits of fiction (which, I must reiterate, are inconsequential) to create an exciting narrative about a life still shrouded in uncertainty and secrecy.
If you enjoy reading biographies about the work of lesser-known spies during the Second World War, then I highly recommend you give this book a read.
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.