New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff’s novel, THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS, is an historical work of fiction based on events which played out behind enemy lines during the heady days of WW II.
Grace Healy, a recent war widow, was determined to pick up the fragments of her shattered life. Already late for work, she hurriedly elbowed her way through a flood of commuters as she scurried through the concourse of Grand Central Station. Her rush was abruptly interrupted when she stumbled over an abandoned suitcase jutting out from beneath a bench. Annoyed, at whoever negligently left the suitcase unattended, Grace scanned the hall to see if anyone was approaching to claim it. Seeing no one heading toward the bench, she furtively unlocked the twin latches of the neatly packed suitcase and found among the usual woman’s attire an unopened envelope. In spite of her hesitation to pry even further into someone’s private space, she could not resist opening it. The envelope contained photographs of a dozen women, who she later discovered, were agents of the British Secret Operations Executive (SOE). All the women shared a common mission; it was to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance behind enemy lines in occupied Europe.
The faces on the photographs served as a springboard from which their stories unfolded. Grace would eventually learn that the women, who were referred to derisively by their male counterparts as ‘the girls’, were anything but that. They were heroes. Their leader was named, Eleanor Tottenberg; but everyone called her Trigg. She was of Polish Jewish descent and had prudently changed her last name from Tottenberg to a more ‘acceptable’ British sounding name, Trigg. She was hired as a secretary by the Director of the SOE. Her zealous desire to defeat the Nazis emboldened her to petition him to allow her to take a more active role in assuring the monstrous regime’s defeat. She requested free reign to initiate, recruit and train the first cadre of female agents for the organization. Trigg succeeded in convincing the Director.
Of course the photographs bore only the faces of Trigg’s trainees but Grace was determined to unearth the story behind each one. In the hopes of finding more information, she flipped the photographs over to see if anything was written on the back. She found only their names. Over the course of time Grace manages to flesh out the intimate details about the lives of several of the young women. All of them had volunteered to go into the perilous Nazi occupied F Section of northern France. Their primary mission was to transmit supply and troop movement of the enemy, information vital to the Allies prior to their invasion of Europe. Chances for survival were at best tentative for ‘the girls’ but that did not deter them. The reader follows the exploits of women like the indomitable Jodie whose feats were legend and the valiant French speaking Marie, a single mother, whose loyalty and dedication to purpose were exemplary.
Jenoff’s novel is both gripping and poignant. It pays homage to the women who clandestinely and courageously helped the Allies defeat the Nazis during those dark and perilous days. It is an historical novel that reads like a mystery thriller, which once picked up, is difficult to put down.