The Lost Girls of
Paris by Pam Jenoff
Published by: Park Row Books
Publish Date: 2019
Genre(s): historical fiction, fiction, World War II
HB&W Rating: 3.5
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She had to find a way to bring he truth to light. To reach those to whom it mattered most. The truth, once out, would spell the end…for all of them. Still Eleanor had made a promise to her girls. There was no choice. She had to set the record straight.
One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, Grace Healey 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 network 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.
[Synopsis from www.harlequintradepublishing.com]
I can’t seem to help myself, but I keep reading more and more WWII novels and I love the variety as you get to see so many different facets of the war from the various perspectives of the characters in the many different books. This was another book about female contributions to the war, but this time told from the perspective of agents in the F Section of the SOE, a group of agents sent under cover into occupied France to weaponize the resistance fighters, set up drop sites, courier intel and other important items all in an effort to sabotage the Germans. The book focuses more specifically on the female agents that were trained to operate W/Ts in the field and to do what must be done.
We get three points of view in this book, all strong female characters who are challenging gender norms for the time they live in, each in their own ways, but who are “lost” in some way. Grace, a war widow, floundering to find purpose in her days after the death of her husband and the end of the war, lives on her own in New York City, something that is not favorable for most women with reputations to protect, and works for a living, also seen as a strike against her. Eleanor, a Jewish woman who travelled to England from Belarus to escape the Russians and the officer she killed to save her sister, was seen as cold-hearted, foreign, and other…never really belonging until she found her place at the SOE, particularly the women’s unit. And Marie, a young, single-mother, whose husband abandoned her when she had her daughter, could never feel like herself when she had to lie to cover up the awful truth of her husband leaving her and her daughter, never able to drop the façade, and barely scraping by in a job she found boring and un-purposeful.
For Eleanor, who had felt quite literally on the run since the old country, SOE had given her a place. But it was in the women’s unit that she had found her life’s work.
The story starts out a bit slow in my opinion, but picks up about halfway through. I thought some of the jumping from Eleanor to Marie and back made it hard to tell what order things were moving in at times. But I didn’t fight that too much, I just trusted that the author would reveal everything in time, which she does.
There were several recurring themes in this book, chief among them gender discrimination of the times and finding one’s purpose, but also the importance of the truth coming out, no matter how ugly it is, no matter the consequences. It was these things that tied all three voices together. Though I have to say, that I found Grace’s role in the entire thing a bit far-fetched. Is it plausible that she finds a “mysterious” suitcase (the suitcase itself is described as only your average suitcase, nothing spectacularly mysterious about it) seemingly abandoned and decides to dig through it? Yes. Is it likely? Probably not. But the story needed something to drive this part of the story, so there we have Grace.
There were a few things about Eleanor’s story that just didn’t jive for me. First, and really inconsequentially, I didn’t care for the over-familiarity of Mick. It was unnecessary, creating an almost-love interest that didn’t pan out did nothing to further the story in any way. Also, I was expecting a more sinister end to her story given the violent way she died at the beginning of the novel. The way it was written seemed a bit too easy to me, too tied off with a bow, but moreover, just didn’t seem to be true to Eleanor’s character, or what I would expect of a villain who did what they did.
All of that aside, I liked that this is another story shining a spot light on the unsung female heroes of the war, women whose stories we are only relatively recently learning more about as files become declassified, and women who for the last several decades have been lost to time. The author cites a couple non-fiction books which inspired this story in her Author’s Note that I have added to my TBR list.
I also really liked how the story and even the title itself gets you to think upon the various meanings behind the word “lost,” not just missing, but how we can become lost without purpose, without our truth being told and remembered, how we can lose ourselves in confining ourselves to a role others set for us to play, how love can make us lose our heads and act irrationally, or heroically, and so much more.
In conclusion, it’s a solid story, if a little indulgent in some aspects, but another thought-provoking WWII read that is worth the time to read if you have the opportunity, though I doubt it would be on the short list of titles I would recommend for this genre.
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