There has been a wonderful trend in historical fiction, with a number of books highlighting previously little known actions of courageous women during World War II. “The Lost Girls of Paris” is a new entry in the trend, and author Pam Jenoff has found yet another group of women to highlight.
Loosely based on the British unit F section of the Secret Operative Executive, it portrays Vera Atkins and her “girls,” a group of civilian women personally selected to be trained and sent to France as couriers and wireless operators at the end of the war, replacing the men who were too easily identifiable.
The brains behind the group in Jenoff’s story is Eleanor Trigg, a secretary for the SOE who convinces her superior to permit her to recruit and train women for the job. Although she appears to be a woman of steel and little emotion, she comes to care dearly for those she sends to France, and works doggedly to find out what happened to them. Marie and Josie are the two incredibly brave women whose stories of working with the Resistance are highlighted.
Grace, a young widow in the United States in 1946, discovers an abandoned suitcase in Grand Central Terminal. In an attempt to identify the owner, she looks inside and finds photos of 12 young women—they are photos of Eleanor’s girls. When Eleanor is killed in an automobile accident, Grace takes on the task of learning about Eleanor, then tracking down the stories of the young women.
During the course of the riveting story, Jenoff also reveals how difficult and often-wrong decisions were made by people not on the front, how difficult records of such secretive actions are to find, and how little credit was given to these, and other women, during wartime.
I found the story fascinating and the young characters incredibly brave. I became even more intrigued when I learned that it is very much based on actual events, and looked up Vera Atkins.
This is a wonderfully written fictional glimpse at another little-known part of history.