World War II remains a timeless backdrop for page-turning novels. From the suspense of battle to historical significance, the new novel “The Lost Girls Of Paris” by Pam Jenoff takes readers back to this tumultuous time, inspired by actual events. Coming to Books & Books on Wednesday, April 17, Jenoff will be holding a discussion and book signing for her latest novel.
Jenoff, the author of national bestseller “The Orphan’s Tale,” also set in World War II, uses the same artistic reimagining of actual events through fictional eyes. This time, she draws from real-life British Special Operations Executive (SOE) Vera Atkins’ remarkable story of running a covert ring of British women as intelligent agents during the final days of the war. They were ordinary women working undercover in France before D-Day to help the British defeat Germany. During the final days of the war, many were captured, killed or lost. Their fate became a quest for Atkins, who considered them “her girls” and their loss hers.
“The Lost Girls of Paris” is more than Atkins’ story; it’s the weaving together of three different female characters and their subsequent war stories. The novel begins in 1946 post-war New York, following Grace Healey, the widow of an American soldier. Grace finds the suitcase of British SOE officer Eleanor Trigg, the Atkins character, and she begins to unfold the tale of 12 lost SOE women agents. Through photographs, she follows the trail of Eleanor’s pursuit of her “lost girls” and is drawn to know their fate as well. For Grace, having lost her husband and found freedom outside the bounds of marriage, the plight of the girls becomes not only intriguing but relevant.
The story goes back in time to 1944, when Eleanor recruits the women. One, young mother Marie Roux, emerges as an unlikely undercover agent. The story follows Marie’s difficult choice to leave her daughter, support the British cause and ultimately sacrifice almost everything to win the war.
The underbelly of this novel follows the resilience and bravery of many women who largely went unnoticed. The characters of Grace, Eleanor and Marie exude a determination unusual for its time. The novel is a celebration of women’s natural independence, allegiance and intelligence during the direst of circumstances. All the female characters demonstrate a willingness to serve not just others but also themselves.
Jenoff’s writing is decidedly in-the-moment and does not wax poetic: it’s more about action than description. A fast-paced novel, it’s an easy read with a great premise. This book goes well with a beach chair or a comfy sofa on the weekend, a nice break from the turmoil in this century.