Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II by Robert Matzen

“Twenty-five years after her passing, Audrey Hepburn remains the most beloved of all Hollywood stars, known as much for her role as UNICEF ambassador as for films like Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Several biographies have chronicled her stardom, but none has covered her intense experiences through five years of Nazi occupation in the Netherlands. According to her son, Luca Dotti, “The war made my mother who she was.”

“Audrey Hepburn’s war included participation in the Dutch Resistance, working as a doctor’s assistant during the “Bridge Too Far” battle of Arnhem, the brutal execution of her uncle, and the ordeal of the Hunger Winter of 1944.

She also had to contend with the fact that her father was a Nazi agent and her mother was pro-Nazi for the first two years of the occupation. But the war years also brought triumphs as Audrey became Arnhem’s most famous young ballerina. Audrey’s own reminiscences, new interviews with people who knew her in the war, wartime diaries, and research in classified Dutch archives shed light on the riveting, untold story of Audrey Hepburn under fire in World War II. “

The title of the book should be something like The Netherlands during WWII, and Audrey Hepburn Was There, Too. I get putting a story in historical context, but there were chapters where Audrey wasn’t even mentioned. Most chapters started out with a quote from Audrey about the war, then details about what was going on with the German occupation of the Netherlands. It’s all very interesting, but there’s not a lot of Audrey in there.

One other beef I have is the style of writing of Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II (AbeBooks) (Amazon). When Audrey’s Uncle Otto is hauled off to be executed, the author interjects stuff like “They picked their way through the woodland bottom over sandy ground spritzed with morning dew.” A couple of paragraphs later, “Above, the birds of morning sang on, songs about summer and sun and bugs to be eaten.” Sounds more like historical fiction than real history.

I’m glad that an attempt was made to tell Audrey’s story and her children allowed the use of personal photos, both black and white and in color, never seen by the public before, but this book falls short.

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