The co-author of The Zhivago Affair, a finalist for the National Books Critics Circle Award, tells the forgotten story of Gertie Legendre, a wealthy heiress in the OSS—the precursor to the CIA—who became the only American woman in uniform to be captured by the Germans. Her imprisonment among the Nazi elite and daring escape in 1945 are among the more remarkable episodes of World War II.
Not an easy hero to warm up to, but in A Guest of the Reich, Washington Post national security editor Peter Finn creates a compelling story ... In her final days of captivity, [Gertie] witnessed the Allied bombing of German cities, and through her eyes Finn vividly re-creates the apocalyptic landscape and the desperation of the German people. As the war winds down, the suspense ratchets up. Finn tells Gertie’s story with irony, humor and detail—the first thing Gertie got rid of after her escape was her orange Gestapo-issued underwear. Legendre is a flawed hero, but Finn’s narrative is a vivid chronicle of the waning days of Nazi Germany, when a country answered for its own hubris and one American woman witnessed the nightmare.
...[a] tale Finn tells so compellingly ... factual precision and tense storytelling is on display in A Guest of the Reich, which offers an insider’s perspective on an aspect of Nazi Germany that has mostly escaped the attention of historians and journalists ... Legendre’s ordeal in German captivity is described in harrowing detail but also with an acute grasp of the physical and psychological trials that the Nazis inflicted on their prisoners ... As fascinating as Finn’s account has been...her experiences in the last days of the war—and the act of courage that finally led to her liberation—are worthy of the Hollywood contract that Legendre reportedly dreamed of. As much as we know about World War II, A Guest of the Reich satisfies the reader’s curiosity about what actually happened to the Americans who found themselves on the ground in Nazi Germany during wartime. In that sense, Finn’s book occupies some of the same terrain as Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts. Yet, just as Legendre herself was a unique figure in history, her saga is like no other that has so far reached us out of the belly of the beast.
Finn captures Legendre’s quick-witted responses to the dangers of interrogation and the contrasts, often expressed in her own voice, between her imprisonment and the experiences of other prisoners and German civilians in the last days of the war. Legendre’s life makes for a captivating historical yarn and a unique addition to the cultural history of World War II.