In Code Name Sapphire, Pam Jenoff presents Micheline and Matteo, a pair of brave siblings running the dangerous Sapphire Line, a resistance network in Belgium operating during Nazi occupation in 1942. They are dedicated to rescuing Western airmen who have fallen behind enemy lines, helping them recover from injuries so that they can return to their necessary missions fighting Nazis.
Hannah Martel has been deeply traumatized by the pogroms she has endured in Nazi Germany. She, along with a shipload of Jews sailing en route to Cuba, believes she is escaping to a better life. When the ship is unexpectedly rejected at Havana’s port, most of the desperate passengers are sent back to an uncertain future in various occupied cities.
Hannah disembarks in Brussels, where her cousin, Lily Abels, lives with husband Nik, a doctor, and young child Georgi. Upon hearing about Hannah’s experience, Lily agrees to offer her the safety of her home. Though the women were very close growing up, they have long lost track of each others’ lives and hope to reconnect.
Nik has already been banned from work because he’s a Jew, and he is now treating patients at home. Yet because they are still favored as Belgian citizens, Lily lives in denial of the mounting antisemitism. Hannah gets involved with the local resistance group, and Lily pleads with her not to cause any trouble for the family. Thus the cousins’ fate intertwines with that of Micheline and Matteo.
This novel is a page-turner with many close calls and horrific scenes. Jenoff depicts daily life in Breendonk, a transit camp for detainees — the final stop before deportation via train to the notorious Auschwitz. The story is based on a real-life attempt by a resistance group called the Comet Line to free prisoners from one such train.
From this book, readers glean the ingenuity and fast thinking of resistance leaders, who worked under constant pressure and with little money or supplies. They had to be resilient, and to figure out whom they could trust under the most difficult circumstances.