Red Joan

Red Joan

Book - 2013
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Joan's voice is almost a whisper. 'Nobody talked about what they did during the war. We all knew we weren't allowed to.'

Joan Stanley has a secret.

For fifty years she has been a loving mother, a doting grandmother and an occasional visitor to ballroom dancing and watercolour classes. Then one sunlit spring morning there is a knock on the door.

Publisher: [Toronto] : Doubleday Canada, c2013.
ISBN: 9780385680042
Characteristics: 392 p. ; 23 cm.


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Cdnbookworm Nov 09, 2013

This novel was inspired by the discovery of Melita Norwood as a Soviet spy in Cold War Britain years after her work as a spy, at the age of eighty-seven. Other than working at a similar job, the similaries between the real woman and Rooney's creation, Joan, are non-existent. Rooney took the idea of a female spy being discovered years later and wrote a most interesting story around it.
The book begins with MI5 showing up at Joan's door, and her past is gradually revealed through the questioning and her own private reflections during the five days of interrogation.
Joan is a young woman unsure of her own self, eager to be accepted, eager to be loved, and yet with an intelligent mind that won't succumb to illogic except under extreme emotion. Joan loves science, the research and this sense of discovery. She is drawn through friendship into communist meetings while at university, and while her questioning mind won't simply accept what she is told, she also has a sense of justice.
It is that sense of justice that drives her actions in terms of her spying activities, not her interest in the cause of communism.
This book is really two stories, the story of Joan's youth and her actions during her university days, World War II, and the start of the Cold War, and the story of her discovery decades later and how she reacts to that. She is a very interesting character. And I liked that Canada had a very small presence in the book as well.

LaughingOne Nov 04, 2013

It was easy for to see how Joan got involved. She was an idealistic young woman who had a father who stressed doing the right thing for the good of all. This novel takes place over the course of one week, but goes back in time, through memories and testimony, to the years of and after World War II. That the fiction is based on a real woman and true story made the novel even more interesting.

Aug 12, 2013

Well written and clever.

DanniOcean Jul 20, 2013

reviewed in the Stratford Gazette August 2013


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DanniOcean Jul 20, 2013

In the days before World War II the shadow of communism took a back seat to the more imminent threats of Fascism in the form of the Nazis – those who believed in Communism were thrown for a loop when Stalin sided with Hitler, but in the decade following the war it was Communism the world feared. 80-year-old Joan, living in Kent, is not surprised when agents from MI5 finally show up at her door. She is resigned but also desperate to protect her son, a high-ranking judge, from the truth of her past – she had indeed passed state secrets along to the Soviet Union. Joan’s story gradually unfolds in flashbacks to her days at pre-World-War II Cambridge, meeting people like Leo, her first love, and his glamorous cousin Sonya, who expressed the kind of idealism that became dangerous, and eventually spawned some of the most notorious Communist spies of the Cold War. Leo gets deported to Canada, far from the horrors of the Blitz, and Joan begins work for the “Metals Research Facility” at Cambridge (which, under the Official Secrets Act, was something entirely different). While quite intelligent and fiercely independent – she never joins the Communist Party – Joan turns out to be a poor judge of character, trusting those she definitely should not, while only slowly coming to trust those she should – a constant dilemma when one has chosen to betray one’s country. It is not the only dilemma Joan faces, and the ethical questions the novel raises makes Red Joan a great pick for any book club discussion. Jennie Rooney was inspired to write Red Joan after learning about the exploits of the “granny spy” Melita Norwood who passed British nuclear secrets to the Russians during the Cold War. While Norwood remained an unapologetically staunch supporter of Communism her whole life, Joan believes her motives stem from the political climate of the times – whether she is correct in this, you the reader get to decide.

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