Dragonfly


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I read the large print version - usually the page numbers still line up but in case they didn't I mainly relied on chapter references.  The book reminded me a lot of a show I watched that aired from 2015 - 2017 called "Project X" about 4 males and a female who went to Europe to work with the resistance.

There are quite a few characters to keep up with but Meacham is adept at context clues to refresh characters that you haven't seen in several pages.  I enjoyed the book and found it easy to follow until the third section, "The Game".  I had to reread the first paragraph of Ch. 67 multiple times to really organize it in my head.  I really like Meacham's style and all the characters so I wanted to get it all correct in my head and invest the time and mental organization that they deserve.  Other books that I like less, like The Defector or Sixty Days and Counting, my eyes just sort of glaze over as I read the detailed, strategical paragraphs and I don't worry if it will lessen the ending for me.

Late in the book, when all the individual wrap-ups were starting, I got more confused with which character was which because I wasn't as familiar with their U.S. situations as their German ones even though names and jobs that were changed were kept extremely close to the original.  I had to make myself a table to keep it all straight:

 Code Name Real Name Fake Name Job Additional Info
 Lapwing Chris Claus Bauer PE Teacher from New Braunfels, TX
childhood friend of Dirk Dreschler
 Limpet Brad Barnard Wagner lumber yard, fisherman lived next door to Konrad March in a room over a barn
 Lodestar Bucky (Sam) Stephane Beaulieu architect son of Nicholas Cravois
lived in a boarding house with Dirk
 Liverwort Victoria Veronique Colbert translator, fencing lived in a hotel
dates Col. Derrick Albrecht
 Labrador Bridgette Bernadette Dufor fashionlives in a convent 


On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex:

Religion:

Gruesome:

Suspense:

Morality:

Traditional:

Sex - One dragonfly lives in a convent.  "Parisians...stand up against anyone who challenges the Catholic church." (pg. 258)

Religion - Reference to prodigal son (Ch. 32, pg. 271).  Ch. 32 a man decides to go to church and assumes someone else is and asks them to say a prayer for him.   Nun turns to prayer when things look bleak.  So does Alistair even though he is "not a spiritual man". (Ch. 77, pg. 659)  A cynical widow "believed in a merciful God". (pg. 666)  She prayed and lit a candle. (Ch. 78)  At liberation, several believed "reciting the rosary and kneeling on a prayer bench in a pew with others who apparently believed that a house of worship was the place to be on such a joyous occasion." (pg. 761)

Gruesome - A character who died from poisoning is later fished out of the river.  A character is pushed to their death on train tracks. (Ch. 62)  Both are handled tactfully with minimal detail.  "One woman had been recognized and yanked out of a car in a funeral procession and made to lie in the gutter while a crowd threw sewage and urinated upon her." (Ch. 92, pg. 771)

Suspense -

Morality - Ch. 30 a male character's silent thought comments on a subordinates penis being small.  His thoughts also include some rough words like twat, sheep shit and "stick up your rump".  Some repeating of Nazi rhetoric (Ch. 33).

Traditional - "Shivering to his gonads" (pg. 275)

Chapter 1 opens in 1962 with Alistair reading a book written by John Peterson that he thinks is based on his team of spies referred to as Dragonfly.  So in 1962 Alistair is looking at the picture on the book jacket and thinks the author "appeared...to have been in his late forties in 1956.  He'd be pushing seventy today..." (pg. 3)
So, right from the start, I'm already put off a bit.  You don't have to be a Math teacher (but I am) to realize that 1962 - 1956 is 6 years.  So if he was later forties in 1956 + 6 years he'd be mid-fifties in 1962.  That's hardly "pushing seventy".  This is Leila Meacham's 8th book - I would expect much better editing.

There was another math problem in Ch. 23 (pg. 204) - "...house with five bedrooms, a master for her and her husband [1], three for the children [2, 3, 4], one reserved for guests [5]-- 'and one for you [6], Brad, when you come home.' " 

Then there was the grammatical error on pg. 249 (Ch. 29): "Actually, she was late by half an hour and the man already getting into his fencing gear in the men's dressing room when she arrived."  At the very least this sentence needs a was inserted.  It bothered me the first time I read it and I read it again several times with different inflections trying to make it work out...8th book!  The same situation occurs on pgs. 831-832: "...I wonder if the people who live there now are the original Jewish residents or their children." // "The owners might be if they managed to get out of Paris before they were arrested."  It seems like there is a question hanging - might be what?  Might be living there.  While I have heard a few older Texans speak like that, it wasn't consistent with Brad-from-Colorado's speech pattern.

Early chapters talk about the economy before the war, which I had never really thought about and found interesting.  Such as Bucky's father buying a new car before the manufacturing shut down (pg. 28) and it was a bad time for Bridgette to be graduating with a degree in fashion design because people were being encouraged to "make due and mend". (pg. 38)

Although I like historical fiction, I don't recall a lot of history - which is why I like historical fiction; little tidbits instead of pages of details.  So I was very intrigued with the information on pg. 399 that the U.s. didn't sign the Treaty of Versailles and because of that Hitler was able to rise to power and start WWII.

Some basic elements of espionage are implemented such as a dead letter drop and a mural as a signpost (ref. quora).  Often a dragonfly requested a "cutout" (Ch. 67, pg. 577) and I really wasn't sure what that was and why he couldn't just use the dead letter drop.  I found it odd that this element never really had enough context clues to make sense for me even though the rest of the novel really holds the reader's hand while delving into the world of espionage.  

The wrap-ups seemed unbalanced to me.  In the beginning we got deep stories of all the characters and at the end it was all scattered - we'd read a couple paragraphs about one and then the rest of the chapter would be a full update on someone else.  With a full story about Bridgette and minimum about Victoria I thought I was confusing them and had to turn back and forth.  Sometimes different sections within a chapter changed characters.  Sometimes they stayed the same.  In Ch. 94 Bucky was talking to his mom about his dad.  The next section starts with "One weekend later..." and Horace Barton is commenting on an article about Nicholas Cravois.  I thought Barton was Brad's family but, after looking back, I saw Joanna Bukowski Hudson Cramer.  I think the B...on and the Barton were confusing to me.  Perhaps I just read too quickly trying to beat the library's two-week check out period.

Discussion Questions

Bridgette and Gladys were best friends and college roommates.  Are you a Bridgette or a Gladys? (pg. 44) Bridgette "concentrated on the here and now with an eye to the future.  ...grateful for the memories of the old but...eager for opportunities to make new ones".  Gladys "...never missed a school reunion.  She clung to every person, place and thing that had ever been a part of her life, possibly because they represented safety and security and familiarity and spared her the risks of the unknown."  Given Gladys' actions at the end of Ch. 6, were those descriptions accurate?

Brad would've been a full-time fishing guide "if he could have put some capital behind it".  (Ch. 10)  What dreams would you have followed if you'd had funding?

Office Fleischer had a gut feeling the mural was suspicious but his superior wouldn't listen. (Ch. 30) We knew Fleischer was right.  Tell of a time your gut feeling was right.

Was this Alistair's first team?  Why was he so worried about them and quick to want to withdraw them? (Ch. 38)

Which dragonfly did you think would get caught first?

Achim used his grandmother's quilt as a comfort object when disappointed.  What is your comfort object? (Ch. 55)

Col. Albrecht thinks about his mom's Friday the 13th superstitions. (Ch. 63)  Do you have any?

Who would you cast to play the roles in a movie.  For me I would cast Jesse Plemons as Dirk Dreschler.

When Madame BOucher thought about Madame Richter not returning Bernadette to the fashion house she "called herself a fool for not thinking of another possibility from the beginning.  She doubted that even Madame Richter had thought of it at the time." It was a thought that drove her to drink.  What was it?

Chris's parents were upset about two years with no word.  What about the Christmas letter?  (Ch. 95)

Victoria was ready for the first reunion but missed it to be at her mom's deathbed.  (Ch. 97, pg. 810)  What would you have done?

The dragonflies were unsure about going to Paris for the twenty year reunion, especially because of work demands. (Ch. 98, pg. 817) What would you have done?

Did you remember the wrap-around with the John Peterson novel?  How did you think John Peterson knew the story?

Describe a time when you had to go backwards in order to go forwards. (end Ch. 99)

Theme Ideas

Serve birthday cake (for Bucky) with beer and champagne. (Ch. 3)

Serve coq au vin, peas and carrots like Bucky barely ate for dinner the night he learned of his true father.  Serve hot cocoa like he had hoped for at home and drank at his friend's house. (Ch. 4)

Serve rice pudding like Bridgette often ate at college. (Ch. 6, pg. 48)

Serve wiener schnitzel like Brad missed for dinner. (Ch. 9)

Serve "tisane tea, buttery pastries and rich bousin sandwiches" like they served before the war at La Petite Madeleine, the bookstore / tea room where the dragonflies met for emergencies. (Ch. 20)

Serve what Bucky hoped to find in the Paris streets - "light-as-air crepes and savory kebabs and sizzling sausages, roasted potatoes and cheese puffs and carmelized onions on a stick.  ...freshly baked croissants and baguettes". (Ch. 22)

Dirk reminisced about Sunday meals in Ch. 32.  Serve wiener schnitzel and potatoes and peas, sauteed veal and buttered paprika potatoes.  For dessert serve lebkuchen (brown cookie, pink icing) - perhaps from Naegelins which still exists in New Braunfels.

Serve truffle quiche and Chardonnay like Colonel Albrecht ate with Veronique at the Ritz after their first match. (Ch. 34)

Serve Thanksgiving (turkey and pumpkin pie) like Victoria dreamed of in between nightmares of capture and interrogation. (Ch. 48, pg. 405)

Serve chicken stuffed with rye bread, mushrooms, onions and walnuts, stewed sweet apples and a custard like Maj. Gen. March. (Ch. 49)

Hans planned to serve "roast beef with potatoes, brussels* sprouts, and much gravy" when they planned dinner to make it up to Wilhelm. (pg. 418)  *unsure if the extra "s" is another missed edit or something specific to the German people

Serve canelés like Dirk got after a disappointing day, "luscious little custardy cakes flavored with rum and vanilla and enclosed in a thin, carmelized shell." (Ch. 55, pg. 471)

Serve "Fried chicken and potato salad.  Apple pie for dessert..." like col. albrecht for Victoria at the picnic on the country estate. (Ch. 65, pg. 557)  Burn a pine-scented candle like the countryside in winter.

Serve fondue and wine in front of a fire like Konrad for Mdme. Gastain, Brad and Chris (Ch. 68) when he was upset about anti-Christmas posters.

Give guests a dragonfly trinket.

Play a game - what ordinary daily activities can you think of suspicions for.  Examples (Ch. 20, pg. 186) rearranging window herbs, priest homilies, meat packaging.

Do a service project - paint a mural in your community.

Playlist:
  • La Marseillaise (French National Anthem) like after liberation. (Ch. 91)


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