Friday, June 14, 2019

Book Review: Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II

Beloved movie star Audrey Hepburn is the subject of an interesting new book, DUTCH GIRL: AUDREY HEPBURN AND WORLD WAR II.

The book was written by Robert Matzen, whose last two books, FIREBALL: CAROLE LOMBARD AND THE MYSTERY OF FLIGHT 3 and MISSION: JIMMY STEWART AND THE FIGHT FOR EUROPE, focused on the intersection of WWII, film, and aviation history. I wrote about the excellent FIREBALL in 2014.

Matzen returns to WWII and film history with DUTCH GIRL, a deeply researched account of Hepburn's life in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. In his foreword Hepburn's son, Luca Dotti, calls the book "a true gift." The book was written with Dotti's cooperation, including interviews and sharing family photos.

Hepburn spent half a decade living under Nazi occupation. Her mother and estranged father were both Nazi sympathizers, a fact Hepburn feared would be revealed once she became famous; her mother did later switch to supporting the Dutch Resistance after close relatives were executed by the Nazis.

Audrey herself, barely a teenager, worked for the Resistance, carrying messages and food to people in hiding, helping doctors, and raising money with secret dance performances. At one point her family joined others aiding a British officer who had escaped the Nazis; he spent 11 days hiding in a cupboard before the Resistance eventually smuggled him to safety.

Matzen paints a vivid picture of wartime horrors and privation, including "The Hunger Winter" of 1944-45. The author makes clear how spending such formative years living under constant threat and hardship, including severe malnutrition, would impact Hepburn for the rest of her life; for instance, reading of her difficult experiences brings a deeper understanding of her later advocacy as a UNICEF ambassador.

In telling Hepburn's story, Matzen also paints a broader portrait of life in Holland during the war, which is both fascinating and disturbing.

With few people left alive who could be interviewed about Audrey's wartime experiences, Matzen dug deeply into archives, as well as materials made available by an earlier Hepburn biographer, Barry Paris; Matzen also researched in Europe and visited relevant locations, including the site of the 1942 execution of Hepburn's uncle. He collected everything he could find which Hepburn had publicly said about the war -- 6,000 words in all -- and wove those into the narrative.

Thanks in part to the public's ongoing love for Hepburn, DUTCH GIRL has received some nice publicity including an interview with the author (seen at left) by Martha MacCallum on Fox News Channel; the interview may be watched here.

I read a softcover advance copy of the book. The final hardcover edition published by GoodKnight Books is 416 pages, with 24 pages of photos. The photos are well-reproduced on glossy paper. Extensive chapter notes are included elaborating on sources and research.

A recommended read.

Thanks to Robert Matzen and GoodKnight Books for providing a review copy of this book.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

AUDREY HEPBURN might not have looked strong on the outside but she had an inner strength. Regarding her movies she did comedies, dramas, westerns and musicals. One movie that is not as well known is THE UNFORGIVEN, a western with BURT LANCASTER and AUDIE MURPHY. It also had CHARLES BICKFORD, DOUG MCCLURE and JOHN SAXON. Plus a legendary actress who might not have looked strong either but played strong characters-MISS LILLIAN GISH. Classic TV Fan

11:58 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Audrey was definitely a very special actress, and readers of this book will understand just how truly strong she was, surviving some very difficult experiences during the war.

THE UNFORGIVEN is on my "to watch" list!

Best wishes,

11:56 AM  

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