At first, The Tiger Claw seems to be a fairly ordinary WWII spy drama focused on a radio operator in occupied France. However, Noor Khan’s name signals that she is not an ordinary spy. Astonishingly, she was a real person, lovingly recreated by Shauna Singh Baldwin with fictional details unknown to history.
Baldwin uses our expectations to smooth the way for us to encounter a revision of history. Yes, the basic facts of Europe‘s War play out the same, but Baldwin inserts the parallel history of colonial peoples to enrich the mainstream recollection of this time.
Noor Khan is young woman raised in France in a Sufi Muslim family. Faced with the German invasion she and her family flee to Britain where their British colonial passports from India allow them entry. Soon after, Noor escapes the confinement of her family’s traditions by volunteering to be a spy – an operator of the radios that enabled the French underground to communicate with British intelligence during the war. Life-span was short for such operatives. Madeleine is Noor’s code name, and Madeleine fulfills all her duties meticulously. The private self remains “Noor”, who has a secret goal - to find her illicit Jewish French lover, Armand.
The novel unfolds with the intertwined story of Armand (addressed to Noor’s once-existent fetal baby), the story of a fractious community of spies operating against ruthless invaders, and the anguished story of her imprisonment by a German officer. Threaded through the emotional turmoil of her stories are dry political observations about all invaders and colonial powers. Doesn’t the Nazi regime adopt the same techniques of interrogation that the French used in Algeria? Haven’t the British also used semi-starvation as a method of subjugation in India? Aren’t the Indians and the Algerians striving for their own liberation even while individuals such as Noor fight on the side of the Allies during the War? Noor has no simple answers: her pondering these questions while engaged in a life of action raises The Tiger Claw to an impressive level of sophistication. Shauna Singh Baldwin’s literary talent ensures we enjoy the adventure while reflecting on the complications of real life.