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The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

On My Kindle BR's review of THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS, a historical fiction novel, by Pam Jenoff.
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.
Source: I won a print copy of this book in a Bookish First raffle and opted to post a review.
Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII
Pub. Date: February 1, 2019

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Review

One morning, on her way to work, Grace Healey stumbles across a suitcase bearing the name "Trigg." Unable to resist her curiosity, she opens it and finds photos of 12 young women. Rather than returning the photos to the suitcase, she decides to take them with her and find out who the young women are. Grace discovers that the suitcase belonged to a woman who ran a classified operation that sent young women into German-occupied countries to help the resistance. Grace finds herself drawn to a photo of Marie, one of the 12 women who never returned home, and decides to uncover the truth behind Marie's fate.

I'm not much of a history buff but after I read a preview of this book on Bookish First, I decided to do a little research. SOE (Special Operations Executive) did exist during WWII and it is no secret that the organization's recruiting policy was quite liberal. It preferred to recruit individuals with dual nationality and the organization did recruit and train female radio operators to work in the field. There was a woman, Violette Szabo, who recruited for the SOE and also worked in the field. My guess is that the characters Eleanor Trigg and Marie are loosely modeled after this historic figure. I get the feeling that if you have knowledge of the era and history, you'll find some elements historically inaccurate.

In all honesty, I wasn't too fond of Grace from the beginning. She fell pretty flat for me because she wasn't really developed as a character. I also think the notion that somebody in that era would be ill-mannered enough to open a stranger's suitcase and take something from it a little far-fetched. I was far more interested in Marie and the other young women who were recruited by the SOE and I was a bit frustrated when the point of view would frequently revert back to Grace. As I came closer to the end of the book, I saw that Grace's character wasn't going to become more developed than what it was, so I started skimming through her narrative.

I also had an issue with the little romance going on between Marie and the resistance cell's leader, "Vesper." Apparently, young women in the 1940's couldn't work with men without falling in love with them and were unable to make logical and rational decisions in the face of danger. The truth of the matter is, Marie's real-life counterpart was likely caught and imprisoned when she went to her flat to destroy her radio after receiving her extraction orders, or immediately after she blew up a bridge. Why romanticize this and continue to perpetuate a trope that tends to overshadow traits, like bravery and intelligence, in women?

Overall, I think the book was okay. I enjoyed reading Marie's story, and I think the plot would have been improved if the focus was more on Marie and Josie, an agent Marie bonded with, and less on Grace. If you enjoy female agent spy novels that follow the traditional trope, you might enjoy this book. If you are looking for a historically accurate novel that focuses more on the female protagonist's wit, resourcefulness, and bravery, you probably won't enjoy it.

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About Pam Jenoff

Pam is the author of several novels, including her most recent The Orphan's Tale, an instant New York Times bestseller. Pam 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, Jenoff 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, Jenoff developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.

Having left the Foreign Service in 1998 to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania, Jenoff is now employed as an attorney in Philadelphia.

Pam is the author of The Kommandant's Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Diplomat's Wife and Almost Home.
On My Kindle BR's review of THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS, a historical fiction novel, by Pam Jenoff.

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