April 15, 2019
Blurb: Twenty-five years after her passing, Audrey Hepburn remains the most beloved of all Hollywood stars, known as much for her role as UNICEF ambassador as for films like Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Several biographies have chronicled her stardom, but none has covered her intense experiences through five years of Nazi occupation in the Netherlands. According to her son, Luca Dotti, “The war made my mother who she was.” Audrey Hepburn’s war included participation in the Dutch Resistance, working as a doctor’s assistant during the “Bridge Too Far” battle of Arnhem, the brutal execution of her uncle, and the ordeal of the Hunger Winter of 1944. She also had to contend with the fact that her father was a Nazi agent and her mother was pro-Nazi for the first two years of the occupation. But the war years also brought triumphs as Audrey became Arnhem’s most famous young ballerina. Audrey’s own reminiscences, new interviews with people who knew her in the war, wartime diaries, and research in classified Dutch archives shed light on the riveting, untold story of Audrey Hepburn under fire in World War II. Also included is a section of color and black-and-white photos. Many of these images are from Audrey’s personal collection and are published here for the first time.
SASCHA DARLINGTON’S REVIEW
After about 10% into Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II by Robert Matzen I was beginning to regret asking to read this novel as the Audrey Hepburn’s ancestral background felt as if it might doom me to everlasting sleep. But then things began to pick up and there was war, which sounds horrible, but that’s what we’re here for, so, oh well.
Matzen does an excellent job of weaving war history with Hepburn’s. The reader cares not only about Hepburn but also those civilians around her, just trying to get by. We are devastated when her beloved Uncle Otto, one of the father figures in her life, is slaughtered as an act of German retribution. We enjoy her dance triumphs and then live through the months of starvation, watch as neighbors are killed, allied soldiers who were supposed to be saviors die. We feel the horror of war as experienced by someone most of us have seen in a movie. We try to imagine that woman, the one who strummed the guitar and sang Moon River as this girl who helped doctors who were part of a resistance, and then find, yes, we can believe that she would be that girl.
While I was not always a fan of Matzen’s non-linear story-telling, breaking the events during the war to provide Hepburn’s comments and actions in the ’50s, I did find her insights on her preceding years to be enlightening. I could also completely understand her shutting down interviews when they wanted to delve into her personal life.
What I came away with was not only how Hepburn was affected, it’s life-long toll on her, but how completely devastating war is to all of its participants. Matzen vividly portrayed the months of starvation, the cold, the desperation, the feeling of sadness that the original liberators did not liberate. The terror of the allied bombs that would unintentionally kill civilians. The daily fear that the Germans’ last line of defense, the V1 rockets would ultimately rain down upon the town because of their defects.
I also came away with the knowledge that there have always been judgy individuals trying to find fault with others, even ones like Hepburn, who exuded goodness and fairness and always tried to do the right thing. Hepburn was and always will be a role model for the best of humanity.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
4 butterflies and a ladybug out of 5 butterflies