Love, sacrifice, and persecution in WWII-era France.
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Why I love it
BOTM Editorial Team
Before I tell you why I *loved* this book, let me tell you why I thought I wouldn’t: 1) It’s over 500 pages, which often makes me wish a book had been more harshly edited. 2) It’s about World War II, and, having read more World War II novels than I can count, I’ve grown tired of tropes that often repeat in these stories. 3) I picked it up during a massive reading slump that left me no choice but to binge-watch Game of Thrones. So when I tell you this book reignited my reading life and restored my fried brain, it’s not hyperbole. This book is just that good.
The Flight Portfolio is a fictionalized account of the life of Varian Fry, an American who saves renowned Jewish artists from the Holocaust by smuggling them out of occupied France. From securing false passports, to bribing police officers, to hustling refugees across the border, Varian and his team risk their own lives daily to save the lives—and works—of now-legendary figures. But when a former flame seeks Varian out to save the life of a boy he knows, Varian finds himself torn between duty and love for the man he never thought he’d see again.
The topics in this book are massive—forbidden love, prejudice, the price of a life—but Varian’s story never feels overbearing; instead, it just feels real. Like 2017 Book of the Year winner The Heart’s Invisible Furies, this novel follows closely the life of a likable man struggling with his identity in an unforgiving world. There are moments of lightness (a Surrealist party conducted in the nude, for starters), and of course, the inevitable darkness. If you too need to be zapped back to life by a really good book, then this big ass, big-hearted novel is for you.
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.
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Upper Arlington, OH
I really loved the characters, both real and imagined. The story rests on the question “how do we value an individual’s life” and has really left me wondering what I would do in Varian Fry’s shoes.
I’ve read a lot of WWII literature, but this was a revolutionary take. It’s focus on the arts and on the struggle of being gay in a time when it was not socially acceptable made for a compelling read.
San Jose, CA
As an art history major, I loved this book. It was definitely a slower read and at times it felt a bit overwritten. There was also a lot of characters to keep track of, but they were all well written
Mount Pleasant, MI
This book kept me captivated until the end. Even more so when I found out that despite some fictitious liberties, most of these characters were real life people. I am glad there were people like this.
Farmington Hills, MI
Outstanding story about Varian Fry--his heroic efforts to save the Jewish intelligentsia and also how homosexual love can be so intense and moving. Beautifully written and researched by Julie Orringer
I am always blown away when I read about the men and women who put their own lives at risk to save so many people during this awful period of history. I am savoring every page of this wonderful story.
This was an incredibly compelling book that I couldn't put down. It is lengthy, however, that should not deter people from picking this up. The combination of true history and fiction is interesting
Started slow but became more interesting with time. Describes both the book and the main character. Loosely based on a true story. Complex, beautiful, heartbreaking, and uplifting. Highly recommended!
Mount Pleasant, SC
This is the best book I have read in awhile. The writing is superb! I could not put it down! 500+ pages were gone in a flash. Just started her previous book. Cannot rate highly enough! Recommend!!!!!!
Like the nautilus cuff links of the book, a story within a story, within a story. About love in its' many variations, and most of all, its' imperfect nature. Not the story I expected. Best book 2019!
Long Beach , CA
I love novels that take place during WWII. This one is different though. Told from an alternative point of view, focusing on Marseilles and saving the intellectuals from perish and equal love story.
This book will pull on all your heart strings, in so many different ways. The author did an amazing job of combining truth and fiction, while painting the journey of WWII France and the hero's within.
San Antonio , TX
yes, gay/bi people did exist in all of history! Baron von stueben for example in our own revolution for example! Beautiful love story and fantastic historical novel.Thank you Julie for the real Varian
Loved this so much! It was a really new take on a WWII novel, a must if you're at all interested in European art or literature, as some huge figures became familiar characters. And the love story! <3
Lake Ariel, PA
Absolutely enthralling! I was nervous choosing a 500+ page book, but I was 100% drawn in right from the start. Varian's work saving refugees is incredible & the romantic storyline was perfectly done.
This was easily one of my favorite books of all time. I loved the plot, the characters and the language used in this amazing story. It’s love and longing and what you cannot always have. Perfect.
Great read for those who enjoy historical fiction. Do not be put off by length or BOTM info page. Thought provoking perspective on art, love & persecution in Nazi occupied France/Europe during WWII.
Orringer’s writing is superb and she told a beautiful story. Then I learned Mr Fry and his mission were factual but not so with Mr Grant. Did the author take too many liberties with his character?
It took two tries to start this one, but in the end I found it a beautifully written account of the civilian realities of WWII, and the way regular people did extraordinary things to help one another
Virginia beach, VA
I absolutely loved this book and couldn’t put it down. It was a perfect blend of fact and fiction, interspersed with famous artists and fictional characters. Have already passed it on to a friend.