BookBrowse Reviews The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer

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The Flight Portfolio

by Julie Orringer

The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer X
The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer
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  • First Published:
    May 2019, 576 pages

    Jun 2020, 576 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Natalie Vaynberg
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About this Book



An electrifying story of heroism during WWII based on the life of Varian Fry, an American journalist who ran rescue missions out of Nazi-occupied France.

At once a sweeping historical narrative, an insightful character study and a tender romance, Julie Orringer's The Flight Portfolio defies easy categorization. Recounting the true story of Varian Fry, an American journalist tasked with the daunting mission of rescuing Europe's most prominent artists, writers and philosophers from Nazi-occupied France, Orringer seamlessly blends fact with fiction. Operating in ever-increasing danger, Varian navigates the treacherous waters of the American truce with France and works hard to convince his charges of the need to escape. All the while, his personal life and marriage are thrown into upheaval with the arrival of a past lover, one who has a dangerous favor to ask. Orringer strings these many storylines together with the precision of a master at work, creating a richly-imagined glimpse into America's tumultuous past.

Though much has been written about Varian Fry, including an autobiography published shortly after his return to the United States, those works are somewhat lacking, having left out essential details of his life. Fry accomplished unimaginable feats—saving thousands of lives, eluding the reach of Vichy France and the Nazis, and bring much hope to those who knew him—yet he spent his life hiding his homosexuality. In this new fictional retelling of his life, Orringer fully explores that forgotten detail, allowing Varian Fry to be himself at last. Adding in color and texture through her own imagining, Orringer makes her lead character come to life; he is sometimes funny, sometimes serious, sometimes impetuous and sometimes deeply thoughtful. He is full of quirks and shortcomings, yet he is also entirely sympathetic. While his work with the Emergency Rescue Committee is the centerpiece of the story, his past as a young boy seeking to find his place and as a young man hiding from himself, are equally as compelling. In fact, the love story between Fry and a fully fictional Elliott Grant is so perfectly rendered that it becomes the beating heart of The Flight Portfolio.

Yet if romance is not your cup of tea, fear not, the novel offers so much more. It is also a fraught tightrope of suspense; each move Fry makes to get his artists and writers from France to Spain, from Spain to Portugal and then from Portugal to the safety of the United States, is under intense scrutiny. He is a thorn in the side of Vichy, a well-known "criminal" that is always only a step away from capture. As the story unfolds, the dangers only become more immediate, the Gendarmes begin to close in, and lives are lost in the name of freedom. The novel is rife with intrigue and sudden turns of fortune.

If you are looking to get lost in a vivid, deeply feeling work of fiction, look no further. This book will take you on a journey. It will make you think, make you wonder, fill you with joy. The 500+ pages fly by, and the characters feel like dear friends by the end.

Reviewed by Natalie Vaynberg

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in June 2019, and has been updated for the July 2020 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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