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Summary and book reviews of The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer

The Flight Portfolio

by Julie Orringer

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Natalie Vaynberg
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About this Book

Book Summary

The long-awaited new work from the best-selling author of The Invisible Bridge takes us back to occupied Europe in this gripping historical novel based on the true story of Varian Fry's extraordinary attempt to save the work, and the lives, of Jewish artists fleeing the Holocaust.

In 1940, Varian Fry - a Harvard educated American journalist - traveled to Marseille carrying three thousand dollars and a list of imperiled artists and writers he hoped to rescue within a few weeks. Instead, he ended up staying in France for thirteen months, working under the veil of a legitimate relief organization to procure false documents, amass emergency funds, and set up an underground railroad that led over the Pyrenees, into Spain, and finally to Lisbon, where the refugees embarked for safer ports. Among his many clients were Hannah Arendt, Franz Werfel, André Breton, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and Marc Chagall.

The Flight Portfolio opens at the Chagalls' ancient stone house in Gordes, France, as the novel's hero desperately tries to persuade them of the barbarism and tragedy descending on Europe. Masterfully crafted, exquisitely written, impossible to put down, this is historical fiction of the very first order, and resounding confirmation of Orringer's gifts as a novelist.

I
Gordes

There was, it turned out, no train to the village where the Chagalls lived: one of many complications he'd failed to anticipate. He had to pay a boy with a motorbike to run him up from the station at Cavail­lon, ten miles at a brainshaking pace along a narrow rutted road. On either side rose ochre hills striated with grapevines and lavender and olive trees; overhead, a blinding white-veined sky. The smell was of the boy's leather jacket and of charred potatoes, exhalate of his clever homemade fuel. At the foot of the village the boy parked in a shadow, accepted Varian's francs, and tore off into the distance before Varian could arrange a ride back.

The streets of Gordes, carved into a sunstruck limestone hill above the Luberon Valley, offered little in the way of shade. He would have given anything to be back in Marseille with a glass of Aperol before him, watching sailors and girls, gangsters and spice vendors, parading the Canebière. The Chagalls had only agreed ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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. If you are looking to get lost in a vivid, deeply feeling work of fiction, look no further. The Flight Portfolio will take you on a journey. It will make you think, make you wonder, fill you with joy...continued

Full Review Members Only (491 words).

(Reviewed by Natalie Vaynberg).

Media Reviews

Booklist
Ultimately Orringer crafts a vivid portrait of wartime Marseille, its innate sophistication darkened by Nazi oppression, and of Fry's heroic real-life accomplishments."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Brilliantly conceived, impeccably crafted, and showcasing Orringer's extraordinary gifts, this is destined to become a classic.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Altogether satisfying. Mix Alan Furst and André Aciman, and you'll have a feel for the territory in which this well-plotted book falls.

Author Blurb Michael Chabon
Varian Fry lit a small, bright lamp in a world of darkness, and in the deft hands of Julie Orringer—under the spell of her masterful prose, her feeling portraiture, her classic spy-thriller plotting and her vivid recreation of that beautiful and terrible world—I found the radiance of Fry's courage, flawed humanity, and steadfast resistance shedding an inexhaustible light on our own ever-darkening time.

Author Blurb Andrew Sean Greer, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Less
No book this year could possibly compare with The Flight Portfolio: ambitious, meticulous, big-hearted, gorgeous, historical, suspenseful, everything you want a novel to be.

Author Blurb Nell Freudenberger
A historical novel absolutely relevant to our own time, The Flight Portfolio brings to life a hero as complex and engrossing as the agonizing ethical questions he faces. Orringer not only recreates the world of wartime Marseille, but seems to drop the reader there by way of a masterfully fashioned literary trapdoor--and anyone who picks up this spectacular novel risks a swift descent into its vivid and consuming swirl.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Vichy France During World War II

Hitler shaking hands with French leader Marhal Philippe Pétain in 1940It is a well-known fact that France was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II. Not only is this chapter in history covered in textbooks and classrooms, it is also frequently the subject of movies and novels. The simplified picture of France at this time would include patriotic French citizens gathering in secret to support the resistance, French troops eagerly awaiting their chance to fight back against the Axis powers and French cities awaiting Allied rescuers to free them. Yet the reality was a bit more complicated.

When the Nazis invaded France, it was only a matter of days before the country saw its defeat at hand. Shocked by the radical change in their fortune, the French government had a decision to make—it could move ...

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