Shauna Singh Baldwin first heard of the mysterious story of Noor Inayat Khan (codename Madeleine) at The Safe House, an espionage-themed restaurant in Milwaukee. A former Dutch spy told her of the brave and beautiful Indo-American woman who left her family in London, England, to become a spy in Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. The story immediately intrigued Baldwin, inspiring her to travel to Europe, seek out the places where Noor lived, interview the people who knew her, and discover more about the enigmatic woman. The Giller Prize finalist The Tiger Claw - Baldwin’s follow-up novel to her award-winning What the Body Remembers - was born from the silences, conflicting stories and significant gaps she discovered along the way.
As the novel begins, we’re thrown into a bleak German prison cell with Noor, where she is shackled hand and foot and freezing from the winter’s cold. It is December 1943, the turning point in the war raging in Europe. Noor’s captor, Herr Vogel, allows her onionskin paper on which he directs her to write children’s stories. She does so, but also secretly writes letters to someone she addresses as "ma petite", the spirit of the child she had conceived with Armand Rivkin, a French Jewish musician and the love of her life. Although she must keep the letters hidden from her captor, it is through these words to her unborn child, alternating with a thrilling third-person narrative, that we learn Noor’s courageous and heartbreaking story. Noor’s mother is an American from Boston who married a Sufi musician and teacher from India. Growing up in France, Noor is extremely close with her liberal Muslim father, but when he dies, Noor's conservative uncle Tajuddin and her brother Kabir govern the family. Uncle Tajuddin and Kabir disapprove of Noor's love for Armand, and as the men of the family in 1930s France, they have the legal right to stop her engagement.