Fey’s War by Catherine Bailey – Book Review

Title: Fey’s War: The True Story of a Mother, her Missing Sons and the Plot to Kill Hitler

Author: Catherine Bailey

Genre: Nonfiction

Publisher: Penguin

Publication Date: 23rd July 2020

Rating: 5/5



In September, 1944, the SS march into a remote Italian castle, arrest a mother and seize her two sons, aged just two and three. If Hitler has his way she will never see them again. For Fey Pirzio-Biroli is the daughter of Ulrich von Hassell, executed days before after the failed assassination of the Fuhrer. Mercilessly cast into the Nazi death machine, Fey must cling to the hope that one day she will escape and rescue her lost children . . .


When I started this book I thought it seemed like an interesting story and an intriguing perspective on World War II, which it absolutely is, however I didn’t anticipate quite how incredibly invested I would become in this thrilling, harrowing and constantly gripping account of a young mother’s experience being ruthlessly swept into the Nazi machine. The story it tells is of Fey Pirzio-Biroli, a young mother from a prominent German family, who is living in Italy as the war begins. After a series of events involving her father, she is arrested by the SS and her two young children are ripped away from her. This book is a detailed account of her experiences.

Fey’s War is a work of nonfiction but it reads like a tense thriller, my heart was racing whilst reading certain sections and even when I knew the end result of a scenario, I was still completely on tenterhooks which is a remarkable achievement on the author’s part. Nonfiction sometimes gets a reputation for being a little dry but I really don’t think anyone could accuse this story of being anything other than continuously compelling. There are thousands and thousands of books about World War II which makes sense considering the enduring and all encompassing impact it has had on the world but I have to say no matter how many books I read on the subject, I always feel I gain something from them, and Fey’s story is no exception. I also think that it is crucial to keep telling the accounts of people who were there because sometime in the not too distant future there won’t be anyone who lived through it left – their stories must live on.

Fey’s story is so fascinating because it is different in many ways to the unrelenting horror of many books about the war. She ends up in numerous infamous places and concentration camps but her experience as a family member of someone who was involved in plots against Hitler is very, very different to that of a Jewish prisoner at the camps. She is completely aware that her suffering, whilst still totally valid and terrifying, can’t really compare to the unimaginable pain and suffering of the millions of people who were brutalised and murdered by the Nazi’s. She is sometimes, although not always, treated with some level of civility by her captors and this actually serves to throw into stark relief the absolute cruelty meted out by men and women who could be unfalteringly polite, even charming, one minute and truly sadistic the next. It is terrifying and makes for an extremely harrowing read.

Fey’s strength is incredible throughout her experience. From her own diary excerpts, I don’t think she thinks of herself as particularly remarkable or brave during her imprisonment. Fey’s is an understated and perhaps not overtly obvious courage but she holds herself together despite having no idea where her children are and knowing full well that she may never see them again and that is truly commendable. She has no clue whether she will survive the war, her life and those of other high profile captives she meets are constantly in danger and depend on the secretive plans of high ranking Nazi’s. This unpredictability and constant fear keeps the reader totally immersed in the action. I was expecting Fey’s War to be an informative and compelling book but it surpassed my high expectations. I was blown away by this impeccably researched, emotive and relentlessly gripping book. I highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in history although it is such a human story that I don’t think anyone could fail to be moved by it.

I kindly received a copy of the book from the publisher. My review is my own honest opinion.

7 thoughts on “Fey’s War by Catherine Bailey – Book Review

  1. Terra says:

    Your review has me inspired to read this book. I just read a book set in WWII, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz, one of the best books I have ever read,

    Liked by 1 person

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