Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff + Giveaway

Review: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff + GiveawayThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Park Row on January 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

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.

1946, Manhattan

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

My Review:

The story told in The Lost Girls of Paris is absolutely fascinating, all the more so for being rooted in history.

In some ways it’s a lot like the nonfiction stories in Hidden Figures, Code Girls, and other books that have brought the hidden contributions of women to recent events in history out of the shadows and into the light.

During World War II, women stepped up to do all the jobs that used to be reserved for men before the war, because there were few men left at the homefront. This was true in the U.S. and it was especially true in Britain and France as men were either in the armed services, conscripted into labor camps in France, or dead.

As the Allied forces prepared for what we now know as D-Day, the Allies needed the French Resistance to step up their sabotage and misinformation efforts. War is, as always, a very dirty business.

When it became nearly impossible to place any more male agents in France, the Special Operations Executive created a women’s section, run by Eleanor Trigg (based on real-life SOE Officer Vera Atkins), to place female agents in France. By that point, there were so few young, able-bodied men around that male agents were unmasked almost as soon as they hit the ground.

It was hoped that women would be able to blend into the remaining population. They were trained to do the dirty work needed to bring that hoped for invasion to fruition – even if they didn’t personally live to see it.

The story of The Lost Girls of Paris is about those female British agents, and the story is told from three perspectives. Eleanor Trigg, the creator of the women’s section, the designer of their training and the person who chose each and every woman who entered the program; Marie Roux, one of the women she recruited who went to France in those dark days, and Grace Healey, a young widow in the immediate aftermath of the war, who discovers a suitcase full of photographs under a bench in New York’s Union Station, and finds herself drawn into a quest to reveal the truth.

Not just the truth of what those women endured, but the truth about their betrayal by their own government – and that same government’s willingness to bury their history along with their bodies – whether their actual corpses can ever be found – or not.

Escape Rating B+: I have mixed feelings about this book. The story it tells is both compelling and harrowing, but some parts more than others.

I found Eleanor Trigg to be a fascinating character. (She reminds me a bit of the character of Hilda Pierce in Foyle’s War – a woman who also served in the SOE.) A Jewish refugee from Poland, Eleanor and her mother have reinvented themselves as Englishwomen – but Eleanor is never quite accepted as “one of us” by the government bureaucracy – or its bureaucrats.

She began as a secretary to the Director of the SOE, became his unofficial right hand, and then the chief of the women’s section – only to be unceremoniously discarded even before the end of the war – and set up to be a scapegoat for the dirty deeds done by her agents on behalf of the government and by the government TO her unsuspecting agents.

Eleanor seems like a one-woman representative of all the ways that women were distrusted, disrespected, successful in spite of systemic misogyny, and then betrayed and discarded when they were no longer needed.

Grace’s perspective from the post-War United States is a reflection of that misogyny and betrayal. Her husband died in an auto accident before he deployed, leaving her a widow but not exactly a war widow. She comes to New York City searching for work and purpose in a country that wants all its women to go back to home and hearth and pop out babies. But the soldier who should have returned to her after the war can’t, and she’s not ready to move on.

Putting herself into the middle of Eleanor’s search for truth gives her purpose and new life. As someone who was not a part of the original events, she is both an unimpeachable witness and empathetic searcher.

I’ll admit that I had problems with Marie. The parts of the story that covered her recruitment and training were absorbing – and the story of her capture and torture were harrowing beyond belief, but I stopped being interested in her as a character when she got captured. Not because she was captured, but because of the way it happened. She literally brought it on herself by being TSTL (too stupid to live). Her capture and subsequent torture became inevitable – when they shouldn’t have been. Many of the female agents were captured, tortured and killed through betrayal, bad luck or just circumstance. It wasn’t necessary for Marie to be a fool for love to show the terrible fate of so many of these brave women. For this reader, the spark of romance in this part of the story was unnecessary and detracted from their courage and sacrifice.

On my other hand or hands, the entire story is compelling from beginning to end. I finished it in one day and could not put it down – although I had to pause at points while Marie was being tortured. Those parts of the story are not for the faint of heart – but they are an important part of the story all the same.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

I am giving away a copy of The Lost Girls of Paris to one lucky US commenter on this tour!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Spotlight + Excerpt: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

Spotlight + Excerpt: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam JenoffThe Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction
Pages: 384
Published by Park Row on January 29, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

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.

1946, Manhattan

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

I seldom do excerpts but I made an exception in this case for two important reasons. The first is that I am also part of the review tour for this book, so I will be reviewing The Lost Girls of Paris in a couple of weeks. The other reason is more personal, I’m away as this is being posted, so I was happy to have the opportunity to post this ahead. That being said, I enjoyed The Orphan’s Tale tremendously, so I’m looking forward to reading more of this author’s work!

Excerpt from The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

But Eleanor simply nodded in confirmation. “I know.”

“But how?”

“You’ve sat in that same café every day, haven’t you?” Grace nodded. “You should stop that, by the way. Terrible habit. Varying one’s routine is key. In any event, you sit there and read books in French and one of our people noticed and thought you might be a good recruit. We followed you back to work, learned who you are. We ran you through the cards, found you qualified, at least for initial consideration.” Marie was stunned; all of this had been going on and she’d had no idea. “We have finders, recruiters looking for girls who might be the right sort all over Britain. But in the end I decide if they are the right sort to go. Every single one of the girls passes through me.” There was a note of protectiveness in her voice.

“And you think I do?”

“You might,” Eleanor said carefully. “You’ve got the proper credentials. But in training you’ll be tested and see if you can actually put them into use. Skills on paper are useless if you don’t have the grit to see it all through. Do you have any political allegiances of your own?”

“None. My mother didn’t believe in…”

“Enough,” Eleanor snapped. “Don’t answer a question with any more than you have to.” Another test. “You must never talk about yourself or your past. You’ll be given a new identity in training.” And until then, Marie thought, it would be as if she simply didn’t exist.

Eleanor held open the door to the toilet. Marie walked through into a study with high bookshelves. A black phone sat on a mahogany desk. “You can call here.” Eleanor remained in the doorway, not even pretending to give her privacy. Marie dialed the operator and asked to be connected to the post office where Hazel worked each day, hoping she had not yet gone home. She asked for Hazel from the woman who answered.

Then a warbling voice came across the line. “Marie! Is something wrong?”

“Everything’s fine,” Marie reassured quickly, so desperately wanting to tell her the truth about why she had called. “Just checking on Tess.”

“I’ll fetch her.” One minute passed then another. Quickly, Marie thought, wondering if Eleanor would snatch the phone from her hand the moment five minutes had passed.

“Allo!” Tess’s voice squeaked, flooding Marie’s heart.

“Darling, how are you?”

“Mummy, I’m helping Aunt Hazel sort the mail.”

Marie smiled, imagining her playing around the pigeonholes. “Good girl.”

“And just two more days until I see you.” Tess, who even as a young child had an acute sense of time, knew her mother always came on Friday. Only now she wouldn’t be. Marie’s heart wrenched.

“Let me speak to your auntie. And Tess, I love you,” she added.

But Tess was already gone. Hazel came back on the line. “She’s well?” Marie asked.

“She’s brilliant. Counting to a hundred and doing sums. So bright. Why just the other day, she…” Hazel stopped, seeming to sense that sharing what Marie had missed would only make things worse. Marie couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit jealous. When Richard abandoned her and left her alone with a newborn, Marie had been terrified. But in those long nights of comforting and nursing an infant, she and Tess had become one. Then, she’d been forced to send Tess away. She was missing so much of Tess’s childhood as this bloody war dragged on. “You’ll see for yourself at the weekend,” Hazel added kindly.

Marie’s stomach ached as though she had been punched. “I have to go.”

“See you soon,” Hazel replied.

Fearful she would say more, Marie hung up the phone.

Author Info:

Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.

Following her work at the Pentagon, Pam moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Pam developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Pam left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for several years as a labor and employment attorney both at a firm and in-house in Philadelphia and now teaches law school at Rutgers.

Pam is the author of The Kommandant’s Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Winter Guest, The Diplomat’s Wife, The Ambassador’s Daughter, Almost Home, A Hidden Affair and The Things We Cherished. She also authored a short story in the anthology Grand Central: Original Postwar Stories of Love and Reunion. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

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Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Review: The Orphan’s Tale by Pam JenoffThe Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 368
Published by Mira on February 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A powerful novel of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II, The Orphan's Tale introduces two extraordinary women and their harrowing stories of sacrifice and survival .
Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.
Noa finds refuge with a German circus, but she must learn the flying trapeze act so she can blend in undetected, spurning the resentment of the lead aerialist, Astrid. At first rivals, Noa and Astrid soon forge a powerful bond. But as the facade that protects them proves increasingly tenuous, Noa and Astrid must decide whether their friendship is enough to save one another—or if the secrets that burn between them will destroy everything.

My Review:

In The Orphan’s Tale, as the season (and the book) winds down to its conclusion, one of the characters prophetically says with a sneer, “Next year? The circus is dying.” In this story of two women who find shelter and redemption in one of the few circuses allowed to limp across Europe under the Nazis, the irony is that they all think of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey as their well-funded and well-attended competition across the Atlantic. Now in 2017, their circus is dying too.

But the story in The Orphan’s Tale brings together the unsung history of the circuses across Europe under the Nazi regime with a moving tale of sacrifice, friendship and survival about two women who find themselves thrown together in death-defying circumstances. Not just their beautiful but deadly act on the “flying trapeze”, but also their hiding in plain sight from the Nazis.

Astrid is a Jew. Her family used to be the owners of one of the most successful traveling circuses in Europe. But that was before the Nazis took everything, including their lives. Astrid is the last survivor, hiding amongst the performers of a rival circus, doing the only thing that makes her feel alive – flying.

Noa is also rescued by the circus. As a young Dutchwoman who looks like the Aryan ideal, she should have been safe. But her parents threw her out when her brief fling with a Nazi soldier resulted in pregnancy. The “home” for unwed mothers took her baby. She is alone, bereft, and eking out a bare living cleaning the train station, when the Nazis leave a boxcar of infants unattended at the station. Most of the babies have died of exposure, but a despairing Noa finds one little one still alive. A boy, and all too obviously Jewish, telling her everything she needs to know about the dead babies in the boxcar. She rescues him, and runs, seeing in this child his resemblance to her own missing baby.

But to hide in the circus, Noa must have a part of the performance. And the circus needs another aerialist. Against Astrid’s wishes and recommendation, she is stuck with training the tyro to perform, and has barely six weeks to cram a lifetime of training into the very reluctant flyer.

They are not friends. At first they are reluctant teacher and equally reluctant student. At times they are rivals. But the nature of their act means that above all, they must learn to trust each other. Or they will die. Or their secrets will be revealed, and they will die. And the circus will die with them, their fellow performers imprisoned or executed as collaborators.

But as Noa becomes part of the circus, she comes to love the world in which she has found herself. And, against all odds, she has come to see Astrid as the big sister she never had. And just as Astrid has cared for both Noa and the little boy she named Theo, sometimes in spite of herself, so Noa comes to take care of Astrid as her world, and the circus it encompasses, fall apart.

In the end, all they have is each other. And it’s just barely enough.

Escape Rating A-: The Orphan’s Tale is a story within a story. At the very beginning, it is the modern day, as an old woman takes great pains to visit a museum which has put her old circus wagon on display. The story itself is her recounting of her life in that wagon, Astrid and Noa and Theo, and the world of the circus under the Nazis.

We return at the end to that same elderly lady, and discover how it all turned out. In this case, it’s a marvelous way to tell the important bits, while leaving out the more mundane aspects of her post-war survival. When we find out what happened, we understand everything about the lady, the circus, and the world she left behind.

In the author’s postscript, we learn just how much of the story is based on pieces of fact, and it is well-worth reading. As the book proceeds, so much of the background feels true that it is almost a relief to learn that a great deal of it was true. Astrid and Noa did not exist, but the circus at this time was as portrayed. And unfortunately, the boxcar of dead babies is also based on historical fact.

But the story here is the story of women’s friendships, in spite of opposition or enmity, and how those friendships can flourish under the harshest of circumstances. Astrid and Noa do not always like each other, and they begin with very little in common. At the same time, they are both hiding such similar secrets that they must begin to trust each other. The story here is the flowering of that trust.

It is also the story of the circus, both the mundane and back-breaking work of putting it all together, and the uplifting effect of bringing a small taste of not just normality, but of a bit of escape, to people who have otherwise been beaten down into the deepest rut of bare survival. Although the circumstances of time and place are very different, this part of the story has the same feel as Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The circus goes on, even in this depth of adversity, because survival is insufficient.

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