Saturday, 1 February 2020

Josephine: Singer, Dancer, Soldier, Spy by Eilidh McGinness

Josephine: Singer, Dancer, Soldier, Spy by Eilidh McGinness
Published by Neilson on the 4th December 2019.

J for my 2020 Alphabet Soup Challenge

How I got this book:
Received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

'The most sensational woman anybody ever saw. Or ever will.' Ernest Hemingway describing Josephine Baker.
Josephine Baker was decorated with the Legion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre with Palme. At her funeral the French Government provided a 21 gun salute, the only American born woman to be so honored.

Fiction based on Fact this novel follows the work carried out by Josephine Baker during World War 2 for the French resistance.

Born into poverty in a racially segregated America, Josephine flees to France. She embraces the hedonistic lifestyle available in Paris of the Roaring Twenties.
With Hitler's rise to power in Germany she is forced to face her true self. Determined to protect the Liberty Equality and Fraternity she has found in France, she becomes an 'honorable correspondent' for the French Intelligence Service. So, beginning a journey which will take her from the Red Cross Shelters in Paris to the cruel deserts of North Africa. Whilst she will find love and enduring friendship she must also face dangers which will threaten not only her life but all she holds dear...
Can she find the courage to fight for what she believes matter what the cost...?

Josephine: Singer, Dancer, Soldier, Spy is a well-researched fictionalised biography of Josephine Baker, an African-American woman who escaped the horrors of the segregated American South to make a new life for herself in France. I already knew of her as a famous 1920s burlesque dancer, but knew very little of her early life or her Resistance work during the Second World War. I think Josephine did gain mentions in Anne Sebba's Les Parisiennes and I love how McGinness' novel now takes me from Les Parisiennes to Estoril by Dejan Tiago-Stankovic, and beyond. It's wonderful when knowledge from previous reads gives me an even greater depth of understanding of my present book!

This book is in two parts, each made up of short chapters, so it keeps up a fast pace most of the time. Part one details her early life in America. Part two focuses on her Parisian debut and continues until the end of the War. I initially appreciated this structure and McGinness's prose style, although I did find myself losing track of what was happening once Josephine reached North Africa. Perhaps greater focus on fewer events would have been beneficial?

I'm not sure to what extent this novel has been imagined. Obviously private conversations are more than likely invented by McGinness, but otherwise I felt that descriptions of Josephine's travels and performances were firmly rooted in fact. Her espionage activities are fascinating as well as exciting and I would like to have learned more details about exactly what she did. Perhaps the information isn't available? Overall though, I was happy that I got a great sense of this amazing woman's character, her determination and compassion as well as her unrivalled artistic talent. Josephine: Singer, Dancer, Soldier, Spy is a very welcome addition to my library of biographies of inspirational women.

Etsy Find!
by tartx in
Colorado, USA

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Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Eilidh McGinness / Historical fiction / Books from Scotland


  1. You'll be pleased to tick off another Alphabet Soup read!

    1. And the J as well, one of the trickier letters!

  2. I hadn't heard of this book or person before, but she sounds like the interesting figure! It's always tricky as an author writing about someone because you know that you want to include all your research so it must be hard to narrow down. It's always hard to separate fact from creativeness but it sounds like a good enough read to me :)

    1. I think you're right that McGinness tried to keep too many events in the book which was a bit detrimental to the fiction-style storyline. I think Josephine Baker herself was an amazing woman and I'd be happy to read more about her entertainment career and her post-war life