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Welcome to the World of The Girl in the Blue Beret

An airline pilot returns to the site of his 1944 B-17 crash in Europe and finds himself drawn back in time, retracing the trail of his escape through Occupied France and trying to find again the girl guide who led him to safe shelter--the girl in the blue beret.

"The Girl in the Blue Beret" is in paperback now.

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Barney Rawlings disguised as a Frenchman, 1944.

"The Story Behind "The Girl in the Blue Beret"

My father-in-law was a pilot. During World War II, he was shot down in a B-17 over Belgium. With the help of the French Resistance, he made his way through Occupied France and back to his base in England. Ordinary citizens hid him in their homes, fed him, disguised him, sheltered him from the Germans. Many families willingly hid Allied aviators, knowing the risks--they would have been shot or sent to a concentration camp if they were discovered by the Germans.

In 1987 the town in Belgium honored the crew by erecting a memorial at the crash site, where one of the ten crew members died. The surviving crew were invited for three days of festivities, including a flyover by the Belgian Air Force. Over three thousand Allied airmen were rescued during the war, and an extraordinary, deep bond between them and their European helpers endures even now.

My father-in-law, Barney Rawlings, spent a couple of months hiding out in France in 1944, frantically memorizing a few French words to pass himself off as a Frenchman, but his ordeal had not inspired in me any fiction until I started taking a French class. Suddenly, the language was transporting me back in time and across the ocean, as I tried to imagine a tall, out-of-place American struggling to say "Bonjour." Barney had a vague memory of a girl who had escorted him in Paris in 1944. He remembered that her signal was something blue--a scarf, maybe, or a beret. The notion of a girl in a blue beret seized me, and I was off.

I had my title, but I didn't know what my story would be. I had to go to France to imagine the country in wartime. What would I have done in such circumstances of fear, deprivation, and uncertainty? What if my pilot character returns decades later to search for the people who had helped him escape?

Writing a novel about World War II and the French Resistance was a challenge, both sobering and thrilling. I read many riveting escape-and-evasion accounts of airmen and the Resistance networks organized to hide them and then send them on grueling treks across the Pyrenees to safety. But it was the people I met in France and Belgium who made the period come alive for me. They had lived it.

In Belgium, I was entertained lavishly by the people who had honored the B-17 crew with the memorial, including some locals who had witnessed the crash-landing. I was overwhelmed by their generosity. They welcomed me with an extravagant three-cheek kiss, but one 90-year-old man, Fernand Fontesse, who had been in the Resistance and had been a POW, planted his kiss squarely on my lips.

In a small town north of Paris I met Jean Hallade. He had been only fifteen when 2nd Lt. Rawlings was hidden in a nearby house. Jean took a picture of Barney in a French beret, a photo to be used for the fake ID card he would need as he traveled through France disguised as a French cabinetmaker over the next few months.

And in Paris I became friends with lovely, indomitable Michèle Agniel, who had been a girl guide in the Resistance. Her family aided fifty Allied aviators, including Barney Rawlings. She takes her scrapbooks from the war years to the schools to show children what once happened. "This happened here," she says. "Here is a ration card. This is a swastika." She pauses. "Never again," she says.

The characters in "The Girl in the Blue Beret" are not portraits of actual people, but the situations were inspired by very real individuals whom I regard as heroes. --BAM

Barney Rawlings and Michele Agniel, reunion in 1993
Michele Agniel, the real girl in the blue beret

An airline pilot returns to the site of his 1944 B-17 crash in Europe and finds himself drawn back in time, retracing the trail of his escape through Occupied France and trying to find again the girl guide who led him to safety--the girl in the blue beret.

Inspired by the wartime experiences of her late father-in-law, award-winning author Bobbie Ann Mason has written an unforgettable novel about an American World War II pilot shot down in Occupied Europe.

When Marshall Stone returns to his crash site decades later, he finds himself drawn back in time to the brave people who helped him escape from the Nazis. He especially recalls one intrepid girl guide who risked her life to help him—the girl in the blue beret.

At twenty-three, Marshall Stone was a U.S. flyboy stationed in England. Headstrong and cocksure, he had nine exhilarating bombing raids under his belt when enemy fighters forced his B-17 to crash-land in a Belgian field near the border of France. The memories of what happened next—the frantic moments right after the fiery crash, the guilt of leaving his wounded crewmates and fleeing into the woods to escape German troops, the terror of being alone in a foreign country—all come rushing back when Marshall sets foot on that Belgian field again.

Marshall was saved only by the kindness of ordinary citizens who, as part of the Resistance, moved downed Allied airmen through clandestine, often outrageous routes (over the Pyrenees to Spain) to get them back to their bases in England. Even though Marshall shared a close bond with several of the Resistance members who risked their lives for him, after the war he did not look back. But now he wants to find them again—to thank them and renew their ties. Most of all, Marshall wants to find the courageous woman who guided him through Paris. She was a mere teenager at the time, one link in the underground line to freedom.

Marshall’s search becomes a wrenching odyssey of discovery that threatens to break his heart—and also sets him on a new course for the rest of his life. In his journey, he finds astonishing revelations about the people he knew during the war—none more electrifying and inspiring than the story of the girl in the blue beret.

Intimate and haunting, The Girl in the Blue Beret is a beautiful and affecting story of love and courage, war and redemption, and the startling promise of second chances.

THE GIRL IN THE BLUE BERET won the Kentucky Literary Award for 2012

"The Girl in the Blue Beret" was selected as a Best Book of the Month at Barnes & Noble.com

Praise for "The Girl in the Blue Beret"

"It's a perfect title for this near-perfect war story."
---USA Today

"Mason's subtle, gorgeous prose keeps us captivated."
---Dan Barrett

The new novel from best-selling author Bobbie Ann Mason will send you dashing to the shelves to devour everything else she's ever written, it's that good. Inspired by the experiences of her father-in-law, Mason weaves a spellbinding tale of war, love and survival in The Girl in the Blue Beret. Mason’s writing is exquisite. Not a single word is wasted or out of place, and she never drifts toward sentimentality, even in her descriptions of combat and the wreckage left behind. Her extensive knowledge of aircraft, combat and World War II is readily apparent, but isn't heavy-handed. Perhaps most impressive, though, is her ability to experience the world through a no-longer-middle-aged widower. The Girl in the Blue Beret is not only a remarkable work of historical fiction, it's also storytelling at its best.
-- Associated Press

Mason has given us a portrait of a man from a generation whose members were uncertain about the protocols of letting oneself feel. And she has lovingly captured the tone of bluff assertion still shared by veterans of that war. Marshall's banality has the ring of truth; his awkwardness reveals much.The Girl in the Blue Beret is a work of remarkable empathy.
--New York Times Book Review

“Ushering her readers back and forth across the decades, [Bobbie Ann Mason] perfectly weaves history with fiction. . . . In many ways, the book is a tribute to these unsung civilians whose heroism often was never acknowledged by those they helped. . . . [A] near- perfect war story.”
—USA Today

“Mason’s lovely tale . . . will resonate for many.”
—Good Housekeeping

“Bobbie Ann Mason has long been considered one of the finest writers of regional fiction—Kentucky is her home and inspiration—but her affecting new novel takes place in France, and she’s just as comfortable and insightful there. . . . A story that’s luxuriously contemplative, sustained by the depth of Mason’s sympathy . . . What a stirring tribute to the Resistance this novel is. . . . Once again, Mason has plumbed the moral dimensions of national conflict in the lives of individual participants and produced a deeply moving, relevant novel.”
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Bobbie Ann Mason raises bracing questions about the subjectivity of memory and history [and] nimbly navigates between the stirring past and the suspenseful present.”
—The Boston Globe

“A compelling tale . . . a page-turner, filled with sudden reverses and narrow escapes. It is also an act of remembrance and a tribute.”

“A richly told tale that gives its main character a chance to relearn what it means to be a hero.”
—The Christian Science Monitor

"Renowned American author [Mason] based this haunting novel on her late father-in-law’s wartime experiences, and the rich setting, detail, and intimate character nuances ring true.... for fans of the award-winning author, World War II fiction, and novels with French settings. Highly recommended.”
—Library Journal

“[Conveys], in heartbreaking detail, the suffering of the Parisians and the high cost they paid for freedom. In her fifth novel, the talented Mason offers an emotionally powerful story of the ruinous effects of war.”

“A fabulous tale . . . Mason’s subtle, gorgeous prose keeps us capti- vated. . . . You occasionally pause to marvel at how real her fictional world seems. . . . Mason can say quite a bit about America just by telling one man’s tale.”

“[An] impressive, impassioned new novel . . . The unforgettable story [is] a gripping tale of redemption. . . . Spellbinding and emotional . . . richly crafted.”
—The Miami Herald

“This is a book about then and now, told both in the present and in the past through memories, flashbacks and anecdotes related by characters. This sort of dual timeline has rarely been done as well as Mason does it here. The structure of this book is flawless. . . . It’s a masterful achievement. . . . Mason’s writing is, as always, rendered in the clear, smooth voice of a natural storyteller. . . . Just another one of the pleasures of reading this very high quality literary work.”
—Baton Rouge Advocate

“Mason writes with empathy and rich language, transforming what might have been a midlife crisis into a middle-aged re-evaluation of life that is full of promise for the future.”
—Sacramento News & Review

“Mason’s storytelling manages to juggle two contrasting realities, to rich effect. . . . Mason leads us skillfully from the young, would-be hotshot, who doesn’t look back, to the shut-down older man. . . . She treats her characters kindly, even if time and the world have not.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Ms. Mason has crafted a novel of reconciliation with the past. . . . The Girl in the Blue Beret is a work not to be missed; its audience is universal.”
—The Washington Times

“Richly detailed and insightful . . . [Mason’s] work is never what it simply appears to be on the surface. . . . The subtle intricacies begin way below the visible layer. . . . The Girl in the Blue Beret draws the reader in. . . . So compelling that you might find yourself wishing it had gone on for another hundred pages.”
—The Broadkill Review

“Well worth reading, exposing a subject that stresses the goodness of humanity, of man serving his fellow man despite chilling con- sequences.”
—Washington Missourian

“There’s something for everyone in The Girl in the Blue Beret. It’s part mystery, part quest, part love story, and part nostalgia trip. All the parts are powerful and contribute to an even superior whole.”
—The Manhattan Mercury

“Mason tells the story of a group often overlooked: the French Resistance. . . . The book feels very real. . . . Not everyone re- members things identically, not every hero is perfect, not everyone enjoyed a ‘happily ever after.’ . . . A must-read for World War II enthusiasts.”
—San Francisco Book Review

“Bobbie Ann Mason just keeps outdistancing herself. The Girl in the Blue Beret has everything: adventure, intrigue, fear, sorrow, nostalgic ache, regret, romance, and most importantly, love. She writes of the platonic love of one’s fellow travelers, along with romantic love—and what a beautiful love story it is, told with grace and elegance from the point of view of a narrator you won’t soon forget. I loved this book, and so will you.”
—Richard Bausch, author of Something is Out There and Peace; winner of the PEN/​ Malamud Award for Short Fiction

"A flight through the gripping, war-ravaged past and the discovery of love—Bobbie Ann Mason's moving novel is written with great clarity and insight."
—Kim Edwards, author of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and The Lake of Dreams

“An elegant and eventually lovely story of war, need and apprehension.”
—Roy Blount Jr., author of Alphabetter Juice and Long Time Leaving

“Fascinating and intensely intimate….A touching novel about love, loss, war, and memory….profoundly revealing how the past haunts the present.”
—Publishers Weekly

Photo by LaNelle Mason