Pam Jenoff returns to the blog with a story of women’s participation on the front lines of World War II.
The Lost Girls of Paris
Told in three different voices, in three timeframes, Jenoff gives us the story of operations through the SOE, a British wartime branch dedicated to working with in country organizations and resistance groups to cause upheaval in the German plans: from moving personnel and supplies to actually setting bombs to destroy infrastructure while providing a constant stream of “boots on the ground’ information through various radio dispatches. In actual fact, the SOE operatives were clandestine and unless male, unrecognized by the British government, and with an average lifespan of six months (at best), this is a huge ask requiring all who are chosen and agreed to do their part some of the bravest, yet least recognized in the fight. Using a mix of facts and fictions, Jenoff manages to tell a story that brings us through the first consideration of women in the front lines to the dissolution and search for answers for 12 missing women. Told in three voices from three women in very different places and positions, Grace, Eleanor and Marie all share their fears, hopes, activities and struggles to make places for themselves as they make a difference.
Grace’s perspective in 1946 brings a touch of mystery to the story: her discovery of a case tucked under a bench in Grand Central, and the dozen photographs of young women contained inside fits neatly into her own personal upheaval, and allows her a new focus that isn’t her own situation, grief, guilt or lack of real direction since her husband’s death before deployment. Working for an attorney who is constantly ‘on’ and developed a network of ‘connections’ who may be able to help her answer who the girls are, she’s also got her husband’s best friend, a lawyer in DC, and if she can overcome the mixture of guilt and attraction, a person who also could help her to answer the ‘why’ and ‘who’. Grace takes us through the US side of the records, making assumptions that are, but for one, correct and finding a sort of ‘peace’ in the answers she uncovers.
Eleanor and Marie are more the bits of the story that are ‘as it happens’ on the ground. Eleanor has managed, despite her Polish routes and being a refugee, risen to the top of the SOE as admin and personal secretary to the director. Her organization, clear thinking, determination and a photographic memory have made her indispensable (for the moment) and when she suggests (and rightly so) that women are recruited to operate in country and work as agents in France, she is the one tasked with recruiting and organizing their training and deployment. Determined to make her ‘girls’ relevant and use their skills to perform under the nose of the Germans, her recruits come from everywhere, and her knowledge of them is encyclopedic. It is when she recruits Marie, a single unwed mother born to privilege with a French mother that our tale of the organization truly takes off. We follow Marie through her training, her deployment and her life in France, getting to know other members of the large cell she works with, the leaders and the other members, until her eventual capture by the Germans and her realization that someone, up in the offices of London has betrayed them all.
It is Grace’s story that ties all of this together as she pulls all the pieces together, pieces that Eleanor was slowly gathering and providing these women with a voice and story. Unknown and unacknowledged, it will take Grace’s determination with a surprising cohort to bring the story of the “F Section” and the women who served the SOE to the fore. Jenoff has brought these three stories together in a ‘past/present’ sort of way, where Grace is digging in the past, Eleanor and Marie are both speaking in their present (1943 – 1944) and only the photographs, mementos and memories bring these lives to notice, otherwise these fictional 12 would have been lost to history. A clever mix of the atmospheric descriptions of the moments, the bits of actual fact and plausible conversations that feel as if the reader is there, the story is gripping and hard to put down. Were it not for Eleanor, never giving up on “her girls’ and her need to have answers for the 12 who were lost – readers find her determination admirable, and Grace’s taking up that chore as only fitting for one who never quite felt as if she “fit’ in with her family’s more conventional expectations of their daughter, as both Eleanor and Marie, for their own reasons also never quite “fit’ into British life.
Title: The Lost Girls of Paris
Author: Pam Jenoff
Genre: Historical Fiction, Setting: France, World War II
Published by: Park Row
Published on: 5 February, 2019
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 11 Hours: 15 minutes
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From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.
Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.
Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.
Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.