Three Ordinary Girls is a non-fiction account of Dutch teenagers Hannie Schaft, Truus Oversteegen and her sister, Freddie Oversteegen. The trio became active in the Dutch resistance during WWII, hiding Jewish people fleeing the occupying Nazis, conducting spy missions and even carrying out assassinations. It’s a remarkable story well deserving of a great book, but on that score author Tim Brady has fallen short of the mark.
Brady’s account is unfocused and often feels like it is substituting minimally researched information about the Netherlands in WWII to patch in the gaps between anecdotes about the Oversteegens and Hannie. While obviously this material is needed for context, the execution was haphazard and perfunctory. Though not a subject matter expert by any means, I was not surprised to see disappointed reviews from Dutch readers complaining about factual errors and mistranslations.
The book’s saving grace is that it does capture, at least in part, what a dangerous, confusing time and place this must have been. The Dutch resistance were obviously on the right side of history, but their worries about maintaining secrecy and unity lead to some costly mistakes and deadly choices. The Oversteegens and Hannie Schaft stand out for their youth and their commitment, but the resistance was full of people taking on these serious missions who would otherwise have been living routine, normal lives. Brady does a good job highlighting the risks that were being undertaken by these brave people.