Paperbacks: Spy Princess, by Shrabani Basu

Reviewed,Boyd Tonkin
Friday 26 September 2008 00:00 BST

The inspiring Noor Inayat Khan – posthumous holder of the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre, a Muslim princess and Indian nationalist who gave everything for our freedom – ought to be as popular a heroine in British schools as Florence Nightingale once was.

Basu's moving and scrupulous biography might help that to happen. Descended from Tipu Sultan, that great thorn in the imperial side in India, Noor grew up in Paris in a family of musicians and Sufi mystics. Already a published children's author, she joined SOE as a British secret agent in 1943, and returned to Paris as a radio operator liaising with local Resistance cells. After the Gestapo broke the networks, almost the entire system of clandestine contact rested on her slim shoulders. Despite daring escapes, the Germans caught her. Utterly unbowed by Nazi cruelty, she was killed in Dachau in 1944 – with "Liberté" on her lips.

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