The Golden Doves

Book Review

The Golden Doves by Martha Hall Kelly
Historical Fiction / WWII

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Two former female spies, bound together by their past, risk everything to hunt down an infamous Nazi doctor in the aftermath of World War II—an extraordinary novel inspired by true events from the New York Times bestselling author of Lilac Girls.

Reader’s Thoughts:

This historical novel follows two former French resistance workers: Josie and Arlette. During the war, their work forwarding Nazi intelligence to the Allies was so successful, they became known as The Golden Doves. Eventually, however, they are caught and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Now, several years in the future, they’re reunited once more as they seek justice for the devastation and loss they faced.

The Golden Doves is a thick, beautifully written historical novel. The story alternates between the main characters’ (Josie and Arlette) points of view, but it also moves forward and backward through time, spanning a seven year time period. This creates a detailed and rich backstory that slowly builds into a complicated and suspenseful plot.

With its evocative and vivid prose, the author immediately drew me into the story. The layered narrative and individual history had me feeling very strongly on behalf of our two main characters – both of whom are dealing with the traumatic personal aftermath of the war. Some of the callous comments directed at Josie while she’s working for the military (despite their knowledge of her past during the war) and the injustice of Nazis being pardoned of atrocities for the sake of intelligence, made me physically agitated while reading — and I always have to applaud an author who is able to evoke that level of emotion in me as a reader.

Tackling subjects like Operation Paperclip, for example, explores lingering injustice and the complexities of political decisions. While this wasn’t the first time I’ve read about Operation Paperclip in a novel the details and setting felt extremely well-researched. (Operation Paperclip was a US government program that brought Nazi scientists to the States after the war in order to benefit US intelligence and simultaneously prevent knowledge from falling into Soviet hands.) This subject is sure to leave readers with many thoughts and questions, inviting them to study and explore the topic further for themselves — and I love when historical fiction does that.

However, the second half of the book took a turn that lost some of the realism for me. Instead of historical fiction, it began to feel more like a speculative thriller. While I normally enjoy suspenseful reads, there were too many implausible and unrealistic aspects to it, especially in contrast to the solid historical research that appeared in the first half of the story.

I did, however, appreciate the overarching themes within the book – the long-lasting effects of trauma and war, injustice and hateful ideals that must be continually fought against, and the overlap with our own modern-day headlines.

This was really close to being a five-star read for me. While the second half of the story felt a little uneven, the gorgeous writing, detailed research, and intriguing plot, made for a memorable and heartfelt read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Recommended for:

Fans of historical fiction with complicated, suspenseful plots

This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Copy of the book provided courtesy of the publisher, Penguin Random House Canada. All opinions expressed are my own.

About the book:

(From the publisher): American Josie Anderson and Parisian Arlette LaRue are thrilled to be working in the French resistance, stealing so many Nazi secrets that they become known as the Golden Doves, renowned across France and hunted by the Gestapo. Their courage will cost them everything. When they are finally arrested and taken to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, along with their loved ones, a reclusive Nazi doctor does unspeakable things to Josie’s mother, a celebrated Jewish singer who joined her daughter in Paris when the world seemed bright. And Arlette’s son is stolen from her, never to be seen again.

A decade later the Doves fall headlong into a dangerous dual mission: Josie is working for U.S. Army Intelligence and accepts an assignment to hunt down the infamous doctor, while a mysterious man tells Arlette he may have found her son. The Golden Doves embark on a quest across Europe and ultimately to French Guiana, discovering a web of terrible secrets, and must put themselves in grave danger to finally secure justice and protect the ones they love.

Martha Hall Kelly has garnered acclaim for her stunning combination of empathy and research into the stories of women throughout history and for exploring the terrors of Ravensbrück. With The Golden Doves, she has crafted an unforgettable story about the fates of Nazi fugitives in the wake of World War II—and the unsung female spies who risked it all to bring them to justice.

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