Code Name Lily by Julien Ayotte

If not for historical fiction, how would we ever get to know about some of the most amazing people and their wondrous feats?

Code Name Lily’ by Julien Ayotte is a recreation of the Belgian Comet Line, the resistance group that operated secretly to help the airmen shot down by the German forces, to cross over the enemy territory. Lily from the title of the book is based on the true story of Micheline ‘Michou’ Dumon-Ugeux, a legend in the comet line escape network.

Code Name Lily by Julien Ayotte, 277 pages
Kindle Direct Publishing

We may have come about eighty-years since World War II but this part of history remains one of the most intriguing subjects for fiction writers. But, to be honest, I was in for a surprise that ‘Code Name Lily’ focused more on a secret underground network, the agents across the line from Belgium to Spain and their stories instead of the politics and lives of the soldiers in the combat. It is indeed a lesser-known territory in fiction.

The story begins with Tony Papineau, a 70-year-old dermatologist living in Rhode Island receiving a phone call from the current owner of his childhood home in Cumberland to inform him of the discovery of a metal box from a hidden room. Tony hardly knew his father since he died in 1953, way back when Tony was barely five-years-old. His mother never discussed anything regarding his father so this becomes the first step to unravel Gerard Papineau’s life.

When Tony receives the metal box, the contents surprise him; he is dawned on the fact that his father served the army during World War II. Gerard Papineau, Tony’s father had to land in Belgium after his plane was shot down. Belgium under the occupation of Germany (at that time) posed a great threat to captured soldiers who were dealt with severity. A journal inside the metal box reveals the story of Gerard Papineau’s survival, his meeting with Lily, the agent responsible for his safe evacuation and his love for her.

The book tries to recreate the story of Lily and link this story with the veteran Andree de Jongh code-named Dedee, the first leader of the Belgium Comet Line. The book takes us through Dedee’s life and the details regarding the functioning of this resistance group. As most of the characters are modeled around real-life people of that time, I think it limited the scope to play around within the plot. It is only through the Papineau family that the author could exercise his liberty. But, nonetheless, it is fascinating to read about the German atrocities in Belgium, the tight-nosed Gestapos on the look-out, numerous safe-houses and the treacherous trail through the mountainous terrain to reach Spain.

It is endearing to read about Dedee, the 24-year-old and then Lily, the 22-year-old playing such a pivotal roles in ‘The Belgian Resistance’, organizing the Belgian Comet Line. The two young women, thin and frail, passing off for teenagers and yet heading the operations, arranging food, clothes, photographs and other documents for fake identifications and safe houses to accompanying the injured soldiers across the line. One also gets a brief sketch about the families of these women and the patriotic fervor that gripped them.

As an Indian reader, I was amazed to know about the comet line. As a student, we studied World War II from a distant perspective. There was nothing beyond the two sides – Allied and the Axis and incidents like Pearl Harbour. The story of the ‘Comet Line’ gives a human face to the war; it attaches you to the emotions of the common citizens who stood up in their own ways contributing towards the resistance by donating clothes or lending their homes as safe-houses, sharing the meager meals with the rescued and injured soldiers.  

Read this book to know about Lily and Gerard’s story and Tony’s quest to understand his father’s heroic tale posthumously.

The book is available on Amazon ‘Code Name Lily by Julien Ayotte’

About the Author

Julien Ayotte was born in Rhode Island in 1941. He graduated from Mt. St. Charles academy in 1959. In 1963, he received a B.S. degree from the University of Rhode Island, followed by an M.B.A. in 1969, a Harvard Business School Management Development Program in 1978, and a PhD from Columbia Pacific University in 1992.

He began to write his debut novel, Flower of Heaven, in 1987, but after completing ten chapters, he put it aside because of other commitments. In 2001, he started writing again and co-authored a financial planning book with Dr. Gerhard Harms, entitled Wealth Building for Professionals. Flower of Heaven was published in 2012, followed by the sequel, Dangerous Bloodlines, in 2014, A Life Before in 2016, and Disappearance in 2017. Code Name Lily is his fifth novel in six years, published by Direct Kindle Publishing in 2018.

I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

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