In Spite of It All
Outskirts Press (2021)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (12/2022)
“In Spite of It All” by Constance Bierkan entwines the lives of two young women: Claire Fitzgerald and Madeleine de Beaulieu. Set against the backdrop of the end of World War II, all three characters, though from vastly different backgrounds, find themselves enmeshed in a plot by the Allies to take possession of Hitler’s propaganda art, which is hidden in a mine in France. Claire and Madeleine grew up in vastly different worlds, one in abject poverty and one in comfort. Claire joins the Red Cross after her husband, Billy, allegedly died in a plane crash in Alaska. Meanwhile, Madeleine is left facing a dire consequence after a rash trip to Morocco ended more horribly than she could have imagined. As both manage to get involved with men working to recover the propaganda art, they will learn that the troubles of the past seem inconsequential compared to the new dangers they are facing. For Claire and Madeleine, they will even discover a startling connection between them that neither could have ever seen coming.
“In Spite of It All” is a moving saga about two young women caught in the tragedy of war. Both are resentful of current events; Claire because she does not understand why America is getting involved in a war with Germany that, in her opinion, is irrelevant to American society. Madeleine, meanwhile, feels stifled and romantically starved living in wartime France. Over the course of the book, however, events unfold which require both young women to adapt to drastically changing circumstances, tragedy, and responsibility for not only their lives, but the lives of others, as well. I enjoyed witnessing Claire and Madeleine grow from their initial aloofness to a state of grim understanding about just how much this war truly does affect them personally, and their countries. Both move from being pre-occupied with their own worries and insecurities to wanting to be part of something meaningful, and maybe even a little risky, if it means they can help end the suffering caused by the Nazis.
“In Spite of It All” did feel rather slow moving at times, and it was a little hard to get into a good rhythm for the first one hundred pages or so. Once Claire joined the Red Cross and Madeleine returns to France, however, the pacing did seem to pick up as more action-filled events started taking place, and we really started to get more involved in the mission concerning the propaganda art. I enjoyed the alternating points of view between both girls, as though both are at a similar transition point in their lives. The way they navigate their thoughts and worlds is quite different. They complemented each other well and gave the book great depth.
“In Spite of It All” would be a fantastic read for fans of wartime fiction, wartime romance and historical, coming-of-age fiction. It is a slow burn adventure that evolves further as the pages turn and the stakes get more dangerous for both Claire and Madeleine.