Monday, February 22, 2010

The Petticoat Commando by Johanna Brandt

Interestingly, all of Amazon doesn't have a summary of this book. Which is unfortunate because my tenuous relationship with historical facts is going to make it hard for me. I didn't pay attention to the details while I was reading and it seems like a lot of work to look them up now.

Okay, so in the early 1900's there was this war, right? in the Boer region of South Africa. It seems to have been between the Boer (who may have been Danish settlers) and the British. Whatever, all the historical context is pretty much irrelevant because the story is about this young woman, Hansie and her mom who were badass spies.

Hansie and Mrs. Van Warmelo were living out in the country, their house is totally surrounded by British encampments and they spend a few years of the war sending out secret correspondence to Europe and harboring spies and stealing shipping information. The book is largely sourced from Hansie's secret diary that she kept during this time, written entirely in invisible ink. Which is cool.

Unfortunately, Brandt doesn't just quote the diary (for reasons unexplained) and instead covers the entire story in short anecdotes. There is basically no narrative arc, or plot to speak of. Now, it's nonfiction so I understand that there's only so much you can do, but it was a little hard to follow. Also, she seems to have reported these anecdotes slightly out of chronology, favoring to group some stories because they involve the same characters or the same type of missions. Not terrible, but it kind of leaves you hanging.

Brandt also writes like an excitable, emotional woman who faints all the time. Lots of extraneous exclamations over the suffering of others and lots of exclamation points. This seems to be a trend with women writing non-fiction in the pre-women's lib days. Not a fan. It's like Lifetime Original Programming for Books. Stories about Women, For Women, By Women.

Anyway, I liked this book and it covered places and events with which I was completely unfamiliar (thanks public school!) so I feel like I learned something. I'd consider reading more about the Boer war because it was interesting how closely controlled information was. Censors read all incoming and outgoing mail so the events of the war were largely unknown in Europe, even though the fighting sides were both European.

If it tilts your opinion, you can download this book for free on Kindle.

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