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The Lost Girls of Paris


The Lost Girls of Paris

Fascinating and unforgettable, Pam Jenoff’s THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS is a captivating tale of friendship and courage told from the points of view of three incredible women.

Jenoff begins her book in 1946 New York, where beautiful young widow Grace Healey is having a terrible day. Still wearing yesterday’s clothes and suffering from a wicked headache, she is derailed from her usual path to work by a car accident that forces her to reroute through Grand Central Terminal, a place she swore never to visit again. It is there that she finds a mysterious unattended suitcase marked with the name “Trigg” and full of women’s clothing and toiletries --- and a stack of photos of 12 women. Something about the portraits speaks to Grace, and she quickly pockets them before racing to her job, where she helps refugees from the war find care and housing.

Jumping back in time to 1943 London, we meet Eleanor Trigg, who works in Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), a covert group dedicated to sabotaging and subverting the enemy’s attempts to take over Europe. Eleanor is one of the only women in the SOE, and she is quietly respected by her boss, despite her Polish and Jewish heritage and being a woman. Desperate for a new angle in the war, the SOE tasks Eleanor with forming a group of female agents who, they hope, will be able to go undercover in small towns and villages in a way that men simply cannot.

Our final narrator is a single mother named Marie Roux, who quickly becomes one of Eleanor’s recruits in 1944 for her perfect French accent. In a riveting display of espionage, misdirection and secrecy, Marie is whisked away to begin training for radio transmissions, hoping that the money she earns will buy the future safety of her and her daughter, Tess. Although she struggles with her training, she is soon dropped in France with practically no knowledge of what awaits her, and only the tiniest bit of certainty that she is capable of the job.

"Beautifully written and expertly populated by complex, believable characters, THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS is easily one of the best World War II novels I have ever read. Never before have I seen so much suspense paired with such heartfelt, powerful emotion..."

Alternating back and forth between these ladies, Jenoff paints a harrowing and vivid portrait of the war and women’s roles in it --- all based on a true story. As Grace begins to investigate the mysterious portraits she found in Grand Central, she finds out that the suitcase belonged to Eleanor, and discovers more about her role in deploying women throughout Europe to help defeat the Nazis. When she learns that each of the women in the photographs never returned home, she resolves to figure out what happened to them, and why Eleanor left her suitcase in New York City. She is particularly drawn to the photo of Marie, thus combining all three women’s narratives.

Grace’s quest to uncover what happened to the eponymous lost girls is juxtaposed with Eleanor’s as she starts to wonder why so many of her female operatives are going missing. In Eleanor’s chapters, we follow along as Eleanor fights not only the prejudices of men, but also her own feelings of inadequacy as one of the only women in her field. She is not a particularly maternal figure, but her love and feelings of protectiveness for her girls will tug at your heartstrings. She is undoubtedly the backbone of the book, as her storyline spans both the founding of the female arm of the SOE and the aftermath once the 12 women have gone missing.

I will say now that while all three women were equally interesting, I, like Grace, was completely enthralled by Marie’s story. Her struggles throughout training felt so real. After all, who among us could easily leap into a role of espionage with only a perfect accent to protect us? When she is dropped into French territory, the book takes on a truly suspenseful tone, and Marie’s work feels as though it could come straight from an action movie. As the war blazes on, she begins to find some inconsistencies in the messages she is tasked with transmitting, and she is forced to reckon with the fact that someone has betrayed her and the operation. But who? Vesper, the male head of the SOE’s French arm, with whom she is working? One of the other girls in the SOE? Desperate to return to her daughter, Marie must balance the roles of spy and detective as she fights to stay safe in war-torn France. Her role as a mother adds a tender touch to her characterization, and I believe Jenoff did a remarkable job of portraying the dissonance that comes with wanting to serve one’s country while trying to protect one’s family.

As Marie’s story and Grace’s investigation rush to meet one another in the middle, Jenoff displays a masterful ability for pacing, characterization and good old-fashioned storytelling. Part historical fiction, part mystery and all girl power, THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS is everything a reader could want from a book. Knowing that it is inspired by true events makes it all the more harrowing, and it is clear that Jenoff’s research was meticulous, thorough and fun for her. She invites us into the war with ease and an unflinching eye, even when things begin to turn sour for Eleanor and Marie. She has a true talent for setting her scenes with evocative imagery and descriptions, whether she is writing in rush-hour Grand Central or war-torn France. At the same time, her characters are real women: brave, powerful and strong. Despite my preference for Marie’s story, I can say with certainty that Jenoff balances her characters and storyline effortlessly. At no point did I feel like skipping over one woman for the next.

Beautifully written and expertly populated by complex, believable characters, THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS is easily one of the best World War II novels I have ever read. Never before have I seen so much suspense paired with such heartfelt, powerful emotion --- especially without one overpowering or weakening the other. I will definitely be adding Pam Jenoff to my “must-buy” list of authors, and I look forward to recommending this book to many of my friends.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on March 1, 2019

The Lost Girls of Paris
by Pam Jenoff

  • Publication Date: January 29, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Park Row
  • ISBN-10: 0778330273
  • ISBN-13: 9780778330271