Historical fiction always interests me, to find out how/where things happened, how people lived their lives, and to learn about situations I never knew existed.
The Lost Girls of Paris tells us about the brave women who served the British Special Operations Executive. Recruited by Eleanor Trigg, these women trained as radio operators and couriers, then were air dropped into France, often to work alone undercover.
Interesting story, with some parts causing some eye rolling as I felt the fiction was overtaking the truth! However, the story shows the bravery, courage, and sisterhood of these young women.
Writing was enjoyable, but too many far-fetched situations in NYC after the war that just detracted from the core story.
I had mixed feelings about this book.
The premise (agents for England's SOE during WW2 are betrayed and sent to their deaths) has been done before - the Foyle's War episode "Elise" (Season 8) was suggested by the same history. In this book a young woman in 1946 New York finds some photos and tries to trace them to return them, and in the process discovers what happened to the girls in the photos; she also finds a romantic interest. To my mind, the SOE betrayal was done far better in the Foyle's War episode. The romance between the two 1946 New York characters seems pallid, and neither hero nor heroine seems a fully rounded character. The heroine's reason for becoming obsessed with tracing the history of these photographs didn't seem strong enough to me; it really was mere curiosity on her part yet she pursues it as if it were something much more crucial to her.
That said, I did finish the book. I don't feel it was stupid or badly written, but I felt a little bit disappointed that there wasn't more substance to it.
The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff is a compelling read that transports the reader to the days just before and after the end of WW2. Those who enjoyed World War 2 Spy and espionage and understand the dangers of thwarting the Nazis. and are in the mood for another novel emphasizing the bravery and unknown service of women trained as spies to aid the resistance movement in France during the German occupation will find this story of behind-the-scenes radio operatives both nail-biting and sad. Even as Jenoff succeeds in creating a fast-moving tale that is one part mystery and one part investigation The women in this novel are from a different generation--their missions were bigger than personal.
With that said, the novel tells the story of three different women. Grace from New York during the period after the war before the Nuremburg trials were in full swing. Grace happens upon a valise in the middle of Grand Central Station on a morning when she's hanging her head in a bit of a walk of shame. After opening the bag to find a dozen photographs of young women, her curiosity is piqued, especially after she discovers that the woman who owned the bag was killed in a hit and run accident in the street just outside the station.
The second voice is that of Eleanor, a woman working for the British SOE during the last years of the war. Her job was to train women operatives to go to France undercover in order to transmit detailed information about German troop movement and such to help speed up the D-Day invasion. Eleanor, an immigrant from Eastern Europe wants nothing more than to be a British citizen and help her country fight the Nazi oppression of Europe. Of course, her 'girls' are regarded as secondary to the men who were fighting the war on the ground and in the skies every day and Eleanor feels she must prove their worth to gain them the gravitas their bravery deserves.
The third voice is that of Marie--one of Eleanor's girls. The reader goes through recruitment, training and eventual deployment with this feisty woman who puts everything on the line for her young daughter back in London.
The story is told in an alternative chapter format where each woman is given her time in the spotlight. From Grace's perspective, the reader learns what paperwork and documents reveal and don't reveal; from Eleanor and Marie's, the story's dimension fully fleshes out to reveal the horror and disappointment of playing with danger, being caught, never finding answers and being dismissed--buried under paperwork, red tape and arson and never remembered.
Jenoff makes a point of showing how war is run by governments willing to barter with individual's lives. Two minutes after the armistice is signed, these governments must define new enemies. Ironically, the Russian allies are now Cold War Soviets and the German scientists who once produced gases to promulgate genocide are now wooed to help aid in the new scientist of the atom bomb. Sad, indeed and confusing to those who lost their family members to these changing definitions.
Two of the stories end happily, one does not. Nevertheless, all three women manage to achieve something personal beyond the mere discovery of what happened to Eleanor's girls. I only felt that spirit in this novel once--via the character Josie--a spitfire of a girl who works as part of a team without any need for self-aggrandizement. Nevertheless, I recommend the book as a page-turning read.
I won this book in a drawing 5/2019 and just read it this past month. I had never heard of the SOE or its work. I had gotten a little more than halfway through the book when I got to a part of the story that really angered me. From that point on, I couldn't wait to be done with the book. There are three main characters--Eleanor, who comes up with the idea of female agent and runs the program; Marie, a young (20s, I believe) mother, who is handpicked by Eleanor to become an agent, mainly because of Marie's ability to speak French like a native; and, Grace, also a 20s something widow living in NYC.
Marie has a five-year old daughter who is currently living with a relative outside London. Marie isn't sure she should take the job with SOE because of her daughter but ultimately does so, primarily because the pay is so much more than her current job. Marie struggles during training; Eleanor has doubts about Marie's abilities but ultimately sends her to France. In training, the women are told that in France they are only to speak French and are not to refer to one another by their real names yet when they were in France, the girls apparently spoke English and used one another's real names.
POSSIBLE SPOILERS: Marie met Julian (a/k/a "Vesper) in France shortly after she landed. He locked her in a foul-smelling shed and left her there overnight. The reason he did that was never revealed and seemed odd. In spite of this inauspicious beginning, Marie quickly fell for Julian. They had only been together a handful of times. Julian ended up going back to London and was supposed to return to France on a certain day. When Julian didn't, Will, a pilot and Julian's cousin, told Marie that she needed to go back to where she was staying, pack up everything, and leave. Did Marie do the prudent thing? Heavens no! Did she think of her daughter? No! Marie decided to stay and try to find Julian. That's when I became angry. I felt the author had taken the "cheap" way out by having Marie behave like a weak woman who was so besotted by a man (that she had only interacted with a few times) that she couldn't think rationally. It's insulting to women to draw the character that way. I think the story would have been much more interesting if Marie had packed up her stuff and made her way through France.
Grace was also an unsympathetic character. She ran into her husband's good friend Mark in NYC after not having seen him in at least a year and she spends the night with him at his hotel. Grace has a job as a secretary for an immigration attorney. Once she finds the suitcase with the photos, she ends up being late or not going to work all together and her employer, nice guy that he is, doesn't have a problem with that. END OF SPOILERS
Other reviewers (on Amazon) have noted the apparent shoddy historical research--TV in a bar in 1946, 50 state medallions in a building in 1946 when there were only 48 states at that time, and several other errors. I also found it rather unbelievable when the identity of the person who compromised the SOE was identified. The motive for doing so made no sense.