Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson
is based on the life of Varian Fry, an American man who went to Vichy France in 1940 to head the Emergency Rescue Committee, which helped Jewish artists
and writers emigrate to the U.S. to escape the Nazis.
faced worsening difficulties and feared his skills and experience were not up
to the job. Some of the artists he wanted to help, like Marc Chagall, refused
to believe the danger was serious enough to justify leaving their homes. The
U.S. limited the number of refugees they would accept. Passports allowing Jews
to leave France became harder to obtain. As the Nazi hold on France tightened,
more Jews were sent to concentration camps. Fry and his team also risked arrest.
And if that were not enough, a moral dilemma added to his anxiety: How could he
justify turning away Jews not on his priority list? Did their relative
lack of talent make them undeserving of rescue?
fictional character, Elliott Grant, intensifies the central theme. The novel imagines
the two men were close friends as Harvard students but became estranged after Fry decided to marry. In France, Grant reappears with the force of a blow, reawakening
emotions that could expose secrets dangerous to them both. But when Grant asks
him to save a friend's son, Fry finds it impossible to say no. The Nazis are pursuing
this young man, Grant says, because the U.S. could exploit his brilliance in
physics to win the war.
Orringer's writing is a deft, transparent window into her characters' lives. If anything interrupts the reader's immersion in the story, it's probably amazement at how seamlessly fact and fiction are joined. An author's note clarifies the boundaries; readers willing to accept a spoiler or two can skip ahead to find out how much of the story is grounded in fact—quite a lot, it turns out, including the general idea behind the role of the fictional Grant. (2019, 562 pages including an Author's Note)More about The Flight Portfolio at Powell's Books or The Book Depository