Published by Park Row on January 29, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS REVIEW
Set during and immediately following WWII and inspired by real life people and historical events, Pam Jenoff’s The Lost Girls of Paris is centered around the stories of three women and a ring of British female spies.
The story begins in Manhattan in 1946. It is here that we meet Grace Healey, who is trying to start over after losing her husband in an automobile accident. One morning while cutting through Grand Central Station on her way to work, Grace happens across an abandoned suitcase tucked under a bench. Only seeing the name Trigg on the case, she looks inside the case and finds a packet of twelve photographs, each photo a different woman. Captivated by the photos, Grace impulsively takes the photos with her but leaves the suitcase behind. When Grace thinks better of what she has done and returns to the station to put the photos back, the suitcase is gone. When Grace hears a news report mention a woman named Eleanor Trigg, she realizes this is who the suitcase and the photos must belong to and becomes even more curious about the women in the photos and all the more determined to get the photos back to their rightful owner. This is the start of quite an unexpected journey for Grace.
Eleanor Trigg is the second woman the story centers on. She worked for Britain’s Special Operations Executive during WWII. The SOE was a British spy ring that was operating in France to arm and help the French resistance against the Nazis. Since their male spies were being captured frequently, Eleanor proposes that they should start recruiting and training female spies to act as couriers and radio operators. She is put in charge of the female spy ring and sets out to handpick her recruits. Eleanor takes full responsibility for the girls she chooses and when twelve of the girls go missing, she makes it her personal mission to find out what has happened, no matter who tries to get in her way.
The third woman The Lost Girls of Paris centers on is Marie Roux, a young woman that Eleanor recruits to become a radio operator in her unit. It is from Marie’s vantage point that we see the recruitment process, the extremely rigorous training that the girls are put through, as well as the dangers of being deployed into Nazi-occupied France. We also get to see the spy operations up close and how adaptable agents have to be if they are going to survive.
Through the journeys of these three women, Jenoff paints an unforgettable story of courage, strength, resilience, friendship, and sisterhood.
My absolute favorite part about The Lost Girls of Paris are the well drawn characters, especially the girls who are recruited to work in the spy network. I just found them all to be such inspiring women, and to know they’re loosely based on real people and a real ring of female spies, just blew me away. These women are such brave warriors and I admired their determination to do their part to stop Hitler. Marie, of course, was phenomenal, but I was also drawn to a young woman named Josie, who although she was only 17, was the fiercest among them as well as the one who was most supportive when other girls like Marie were struggling and questioning whether they were good enough to do the job required of them. There just isn’t enough praise to do this group of women justice.
Eleanor was fantastic too. She’s stern and rather standoffish and most of her recruits don’t especially like her, but they respect and admire her. I liked her mother bear attitude when it came to both her girls and her mission.
A second element of the story that I enjoyed was the way the story was presented from multiple points of view. The details of the story unfold through the eyes of Eleanor and Marie during WWII and then from Grace’s point of view after the war. This three-pronged approach with its alternating chapters allows us to learn about all aspects of the spy ring, from recruitment and training up through deployment and the aftermath from Eleanor and Marie’s perspectives, while we backtrack from Grace’s point of view after the war to eventually learn what happened to the twelve women in those photographs. Those different perspectives and the moving back and forth between the two timelines added so many layers to the overall story and to the journeys of all three women.
The writing style and the overall pacing of the story worked very well for me too. Everything just flowed so smoothly and I loved the steady buildup to the girls’ deployment and then how the intensity picked up and the suspense built up once Marie and the other girls were on the ground in France. It took me a day or so to read the first half of the book, but then I devoured the second half in just a few hours because I so desperately wanted to know how things would turn out for them all.
For me, this story was about as close to flawless as it gets. I did have a couple of minor quibbles, the first being that it didn’t make sense to me why Grace would take the photographs from the suitcase in the first place. The photos are clearly the catalyst that set the rest of the story into motion as far as figuring out who the girls are, but Grace taking the photos just seemed like such an odd thing to do. It bothered me for a few pages, but then I got so engrossed in the rest of the story that I let it go and as you can see by my rating, even with my questioning Grace’s action, I still thought this was a phenomenal read.
The Lost Girls of Paris is one of those books that is going to stay with me for a long time. The writing is beautiful, the characters are unforgettable, and the fact that the story is inspired by real people and events just makes it resonate all the more. I’d recommend The Lost Girls of Paris to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, but especially to those who are fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and/or Martha Hall Kelly’s The Lilac Girls.
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.