The Lost Girls of Paris – by Pam Jenoff – independent book review – Historical Fiction (World War II)

A fast and intriguing read about a group of young British women who do dangerous undercover work during World War II, fighting the Nazis. Awarded four stars on Goodreads.

This is quite a suspenseful read where you won’t have any idea what’s going to happen next.

According to the Author’s Note at the end of the book, the novel is loosely — VERY loosely — based on a story the Author Pam Jenoff discovered about Vera Atkins, a Brit who led a group of women agents during World War II. (Note however that the author then goes on to acknowledge that most of the details found in the book are based on her own imaginings of what might have happened, rather than documenting a version of what DID happen.)

Squadron Officer Vera Atkins (1908-2000)

In the novel, it’s 1944, before D-Day and the fictional leader of the agents is Eleanor Trigg — intelligent, dedicated, and resourceful — and eager to prove to the male-dominated military that women can do things and go places that male agents can not. Eleanor is determined to both protect her “girls” and make sure their work is taken seriously and valued.

The “girls” themselves — Josie, Marie, and others — are recruited from ordinary life. Several are not even out of their teens. Some are widowed, a few have children. All are willing to risk their lives to do something meaningful to fight the war.

The stories of how they are trained, sent to France and what they accomplish are only part of the novel (though the most exciting part). There’s another thread that takes place in New York City in 1946, shortly after the war ends, where Grace, a young American war widow, is trying to rebuild her life. Through happenstance, she stumbles across Eleanor’s photos of the women agents, and is determined to figure out who these women are.

I found it truly fascinating to learn about the critical work these brave women did, since little attention is often paid to what women accomplish during wartime. It’s a very compelling read, particularly if you are as interested in the World Wars as I am.

This is the first book I’ve read by this author but I will definitely read more of her historical novels going forward.

Pam Jenoff

More about the author, Pam Jenoff, an attorney who previously worked for the State Department and has expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust.