The Flight Portfolio

The Flight Portfolio

The long-awaited new work from the best-selling author of The Invisible Bridge takes us back to occupied Europe in this gripping historical novel based on the true story of Varian Fry's extraordinary attempt to save the work, and the lives, of Jewish artists fleeing the Holocaust.In 1940, Varian Fry—a Harvard-educated American journalist—traveled to Marseille carrying thre...

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Title:The Flight Portfolio
Author:Julie Orringer
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Edition Language:English

The Flight Portfolio Reviews

  • Rebecca

    Orringer’s

    , my highlight from last summer’s reading, was the saga of a Hungarian Jewish family’s experiences in the Second World War; while

    again charts the rise of Nazism and a growing awareness of Jewish extermination, it’s a very different though equally affecting narrative. Its protagonist is a historical figure, Varian Fry, a Harvard-educated journalist who founded the Emergency Rescue Committee to help at-risk artists and writers escape to th

    Orringer’s

    , my highlight from last summer’s reading, was the saga of a Hungarian Jewish family’s experiences in the Second World War; while

    again charts the rise of Nazism and a growing awareness of Jewish extermination, it’s a very different though equally affecting narrative. Its protagonist is a historical figure, Varian Fry, a Harvard-educated journalist who founded the Emergency Rescue Committee to help at-risk artists and writers escape to the United States from France, and many of the supporting characters are also drawn from real life.

    In 1940, when Varian is 32, he travels to Marseille to coordinate the ERC’s operations on the ground. Every day his office interviews 60 refugees and chooses 10 to recommend to the command center in New York City. Varian and his staff arrange bribes, fake passports, and exit visas to get Jewish artists out of the country via the Pyrenees or various sea routes. Their famous clients include Hannah Arendt, André Breton, Marc Chagall, André Gide and members of Thomas Mann’s family, all of whom make cameo appearances.

    Police raids and deportation are constant threats, but there is still joy – and absurdity – to be found in daily life, especially thanks to Breton and the other Surrealists who soon share Varian’s new headquarters at Villa Air-Bel (which you can tour virtually here). They host dinner parties – one in the nude – based around games and spectacles, even when wartime food shortages mean there’s little besides foraged snails or the goldfish from the pond to eat.

    Like

    ,

    is a love story, if not in the way you might expect. Soon after he arrives in Marseille, Varian is contacted by a Harvard friend – and ex-lover – he hasn’t heard from in 12 years, Elliott Grant. Grant begs Varian to help him find his Columbia University teaching colleague’s son and get him out of Europe. Even though Varian doesn’t understand why Grant is so invested in Tobias Katznelson, he absorbs the sense of urgency. As Varian and Grant renew their clandestine affair, Tobias’s case becomes a kind of microcosm of the ERC’s work. Amid layers of deception, it stands as a symbol of the value of one human life. Varian gradually comes to accept that he can’t save everyone, but maybe if he can save Tobias he’ll win Grant back.

    Nearly eighty years on, this plot strand still feels perfectly timely. Varian is married to Eileen and has been passing for straight, yet he doesn’t fit the stereotype of a homosexual hiding behind marriage to a woman. In fact, the novel makes it plain that Varian was bisexual; he truly loved Eileen, but Grant was the love of his life. Can he face the truth and find courage to live as he truly is? The same goes for Grant, who has an additional secret. Orringer’s Author’s Note, at the end of the book, explains how much of this is historical and how much is made up, and what happened next for Varian. I’ll let you discover it for yourself.

    didn’t sweep me away quite as fully as

    did, perhaps because the litany of refugee cases and setbacks over the course of the novel’s one-year chronology verges on overwhelming. I also had only a vague impression of most of Varian’s colleagues, and there are a few too many Mantel-esque “he, Varian”-type constructions to clarify which male character is acting.

    On the whole, though, this is historical fiction at its best. It conveys how places smell and sound with such rich detail. The sorts of descriptive passages one skims over in other books are so gorgeous and evocative here that they warrant reading two or even three times. The story of an accidental hero torn between impossible choices is utterly compelling. I’m convinced, if I wasn’t already, that Julie Orringer is among our finest living writers, and this is my top novel of 2019 so far.

    “If we could pin down the moments when our lives bifurcate into before and after—if we could pause the progression of millisecond, catch ourselves at the point before we slip over the precipice—if we could choose to remain suspended in time-amber, our lives intact, our hearts unbroken, our foreheads unlined, our nights full of undisturbed sleep—would we slip, or would we choose the amber?”

    “Evening was falling, descending along the Val d’Huveaune like a shadow cloak, like a tissue-thin eyelid hazed with veins. Varian stood at the open window, dressing for dinner; Grant, at the harpsichord downstairs, conjured a Handel suite for the arriving guests. … From outside came the scent of sage and wet earth; a rainstorm had tamped down the afternoon’s dust, and the mistral blew across the valley. A nightingale lit in the medlar tree beneath the window and launched into variegated song. It occurred to Varian that the combination of voices below … made a music soon to be lost forever.”

    Originally published, with images, on my blog,

    .

  • Elyse Walters

    “To be in Marseille, not Paris, still carried a certain novelty, a whiff of the unknown. If Paris reeked of sex, opera, art, and decadent poverty, Marseille reeked of underground crime, opportunism, trafficked cocaine, rowdy tavern song. Paris was a woman, a fallen woman in the arms of her Nazi captors; but Marseille was a man, a schemer in a secondhand coat, ready to sell his soul or whatever else came quickly to hand”.

    It doesn’t take long to fall in love with Varian Fry... who was an American

    “To be in Marseille, not Paris, still carried a certain novelty, a whiff of the unknown. If Paris reeked of sex, opera, art, and decadent poverty, Marseille reeked of underground crime, opportunism, trafficked cocaine, rowdy tavern song. Paris was a woman, a fallen woman in the arms of her Nazi captors; but Marseille was a man, a schemer in a secondhand coat, ready to sell his soul or whatever else came quickly to hand”.

    It doesn’t take long to fall in love with Varian Fry... who was an American journalist.

    He ran a rescue network in France helping Jewish refugees - and anti Nazi’s -escape Nazi Germany and the Holocaust...

    He helped between 2,000 and 4,000 people.

    Julie Orringer - who wrote

    “The Invisible Bridge”.... one of my favorite books...

    has written a gripping historical fiction again.

    I’ve been waiting - anxiously and excitedly - for years - for Julie’s second novel.

    Oh

    - it’s FABULOUS!

    She educates her readers - while totally transporting us back to a time in history in the most intimate ways.

    The year was 1940...

    Varian Fry was staying at Hotel Splendide - Marseille, France.

    Varian writes a letter to his wife, Eileen, who stayed back in New York.

    He tells Eileen that he has a few ( ha- we know it’s much more than a few), projects that he can’t abandon. He feels he must stay longer. He shares with Eileen that he has run into an old friend - Elliott Grant - ( it’s been 12 years since he has seen him).

    Varian went to Harvard with Grant and they worked together at the “Hound and Horn”.

    He reminds Eileen that Grant was the guy they use to call “Skiff”....

    the guy she called “a wet blanket”. Varian tells Eileen she was right....

    With only about 10% into the book - I burst out laughing.

    As the reader -I was already so involved with the dialogue- feelings and thoughts that Varian had for Grant ( some envious feelings - some distrust- and complex feelings ).

    Grant had jealousy feelings, too, but hide them.

    “Jealousy seem parochial, retrograde, shameful”.

    Varian admits happy to see Grant these 12 years later though (who became a professor of English at Columbia and is now on sabbatical). They will be working together.

    Many paths they will walk.

    I melted when Varian included an e.e. Cummings poem to his wife - which he once gave her years before as part of his Valentines card. I loved the poem.

    One minute - I’m melting over the joy of a touching experience of a man’s love for his wife ....

    in another moment I’m melting in a different way -incredibly moved/ *thankful* to the great man: **Varian Fry**.... and his bigger- than-life gifts of freedom to others.

    Varian only had $3,000 and a short list of refugees under imminent threat of arrests by the Gestapo, mostly Jews. Many desperate people - including famous artists and musicians- were begging for help - seeking any means to escape.

    Varian stepped forward - putting his own life in danger - used his own money -

    Julie Orringer’s storytelling feels so frightening and suspenseful and ‘real’ at times. Even letter writing home to Eileen as Varian re-located throughout France - was frightening to him, for the fear of censorship.

    In Lisbon, for example he could be censor-free.... but he also entered Lisbon with clients on an escape.

    It’s a long book - but so was “The Invisible Bridge”...

    Once again -

    Reading Julie’s novel was never a chore...or too long. ...

    It was a heavenly transporting journey.

    Her historical fiction books - both - demonstrates the skill of a journalist - with a flair a soulful artist herself.

    I just can’t say enough about this being the best Historical novel I’ve read in a long time.

    Julie’s writing is rich, poignant- suspenseful- emotionally felt with indelible characters so vivid and human - that she totally restored my passion for Historical Fiction.

    Best not to give too many details away -

    If you loved “The Invisible Bridge”...you’ll love this novel too.

    Many thanks to Knopf Random House, and to Julie Orringer for her brilliant achievement by her warmth and exquisite prose.

    P.S. and who knew that a silver nautilus shirt cuff would be a symbol of love and legacy.

    Book to be released in April 2019

  • Candace

    I did not want this book to end.

    Don't Google Varian Fry before reading "The Flight Portfolio." Let the novel surprise you.

    Varian arrives in Vichy France in 1940, with $3000, a visa for a few weeks, and a list of Jewish artists he was to attempt to rescue. Fry is a Harvard graduate and a journalist of sorts. He's married to a woman who is a power at the powerful Atlantic magazine, and who is behind much of the the funding for this rescue effort. Arriving in Marseilles, he gathers a group of peopl

    I did not want this book to end.

    Don't Google Varian Fry before reading "The Flight Portfolio." Let the novel surprise you.

    Varian arrives in Vichy France in 1940, with $3000, a visa for a few weeks, and a list of Jewish artists he was to attempt to rescue. Fry is a Harvard graduate and a journalist of sorts. He's married to a woman who is a power at the powerful Atlantic magazine, and who is behind much of the the funding for this rescue effort. Arriving in Marseilles, he gathers a group of people around him who bring out his audacious side. Varian finds that he is fearless in getting these people--many of whom are very reluctant to leave- across the border to Spain and off Vichy and the Nazi's radar. His time stretches on, partially because of his heady success and partially because he has reconnected with the man who may be the love of his life.

    Julie' Orringer's third novel is masterful. Every page is full, as good as it can be, and riveting. I loved it, and any fan of quality fiction will, too.

  • Tammy

    Throughout 1940 American and Harvard grad, Varian Fry, smuggled out of Marseille primarily Jewish avant garde artists. Flight Portfolio is a fictionalized account of Fry’s work with the Emergency Rescue Committee to save some of the most brilliant minds of Europe from the Nazis. Marc Chagall, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, Franz Werfel, Marcel DuChamp, and Hannah Arendt were among those who received aid. This historical novel is not just an exciting narrative of heroism and valor rooted in reality, al

    Throughout 1940 American and Harvard grad, Varian Fry, smuggled out of Marseille primarily Jewish avant garde artists. Flight Portfolio is a fictionalized account of Fry’s work with the Emergency Rescue Committee to save some of the most brilliant minds of Europe from the Nazis. Marc Chagall, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, Franz Werfel, Marcel DuChamp, and Hannah Arendt were among those who received aid. This historical novel is not just an exciting narrative of heroism and valor rooted in reality, although it is that. It also presents questions about the value of life and how to live. In other words, does the ability to wield a paintbrush or pen make that life more valuable than that of another without talent? And, what is required to live one’s life with authenticity rather than to live a lie? In addition to these potent questions there is a love story and it is a love story rather than a romance. The writing is dense, descriptive and elegant. The characters are flawed, fearless and fully human. I can’t begin to believe that I will read another book this year that will even come close to reaching the heights of Flight Portfolio.

  • Lisa

    refers to a collection of art that Varian Fry hopes will help the cause of Jewish artists trapped in early 1940s Europe. But most of his attention is not on the art, but on helping the artists escape Nazi capture. This is an ambitious novel that walks the tightrope of telling a historical figure's documented story while also creating his fictional love life.

    Mostly, Orringer succeeds brilliantly. The downside is that the momentum builds very slowly. The pace sometimes frustra

    refers to a collection of art that Varian Fry hopes will help the cause of Jewish artists trapped in early 1940s Europe. But most of his attention is not on the art, but on helping the artists escape Nazi capture. This is an ambitious novel that walks the tightrope of telling a historical figure's documented story while also creating his fictional love life.

    Mostly, Orringer succeeds brilliantly. The downside is that the momentum builds very slowly. The pace sometimes frustrated me - for the first 300 or so pages, I was always aware of what page I was on. But my patience was rewarded. This is an excellent, thought provoking novel - given a choice - who do you save? And personally, both for Varian and his lover, what are the costs of "passing?"

  • Kasa Cotugno

    Flight Portfolio is an ambitious, well written, lengthy novel using as its framework the life of Varian Fry. However it should be approached as a novel, not a biography, since there is an added key element of Fry's being gay, referenced by professional reviewers, which apparently did not have a basis in fact but is fabricated for plot purposes. It is very effective here since it makes for an exciting, poignant storyline. I admit to not having known about Fry and his organization operating out of

    Flight Portfolio is an ambitious, well written, lengthy novel using as its framework the life of Varian Fry. However it should be approached as a novel, not a biography, since there is an added key element of Fry's being gay, referenced by professional reviewers, which apparently did not have a basis in fact but is fabricated for plot purposes. It is very effective here since it makes for an exciting, poignant storyline. I admit to not having known about Fry and his organization operating out of Marsailles which facilitated sending some 2,000 artists, thinkers and people deemed important to mankind as a whole to safety in the face of Nazi occupation and the Vichy government. Ms. Orringer writes with a sure hand, her characters breathe as does the city of Marseilles in all its blowsy glory.

  • Kathleen

    The GOOD. Orringer highlights the impressive role that Varian Fry played in saving the lives of more than 2,000 refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and the complicit Vichy government during 1940-41. The refugees included such famous personages as Hannah Arendt, Jacques Lifschitz, Golo Mann, Max Ernst, Marc Chagall and countless others. Fry went to Marseille as a volunteer for the Emergency Rescue Committee, which initially received support from Eleanor Roosevelt. The suffocating atmosphere of Marseill

    The GOOD. Orringer highlights the impressive role that Varian Fry played in saving the lives of more than 2,000 refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and the complicit Vichy government during 1940-41. The refugees included such famous personages as Hannah Arendt, Jacques Lifschitz, Golo Mann, Max Ernst, Marc Chagall and countless others. Fry went to Marseille as a volunteer for the Emergency Rescue Committee, which initially received support from Eleanor Roosevelt. The suffocating atmosphere of Marseille comes alive under Orringer’s pen.

    The BAD. Orringer chose to have Fry engage in a gay love affair that is pure fiction. There WAS a rumor that Fry might be gay, but this fictional relationship padded an overlong narrative that would have benefited by being a shorter book.

    The UGLY. Orringer recounts the despicable role the Vichy government played in rounding up Jews and other ‘undesirables’ identified by the Nazi government. But, more disturbing is the role that Hugh Fullerton, the consul general, played to thwart the efforts of the Emergency Rescue Committee at the request of Cordell Hull, the Roosevelt administration’s Secretary of State. Fortunately, Hiram Bingham, the vice consul issued visas to the United States in abundance, saving many hundreds of lives.

  • Maine Colonial

    I received a free publisher's advance review copy.

    I have always been interested in learning more about Varian Fry and his impressive efforts to get so many artists out of the reach of the Nazis and their minions. Of course I knew that this book is fiction, but I had the preconception that the fiction characterization would be necessary to assign thoughts and feelings to Fry that couldn’t be verified through historical records. It turns out there is a lot more fiction than that in this book.

    Orrin

    I received a free publisher's advance review copy.

    I have always been interested in learning more about Varian Fry and his impressive efforts to get so many artists out of the reach of the Nazis and their minions. Of course I knew that this book is fiction, but I had the preconception that the fiction characterization would be necessary to assign thoughts and feelings to Fry that couldn’t be verified through historical records. It turns out there is a lot more fiction than that in this book.

    Orringer has done a great deal of research and gives us the details of Fry’s work, which is challenging, frustrating, dangerous and inspiring. She also gives us insight into Fry’s humanity and the doubts he sometimes has about many aspects of his mission and about himself. She’s an elegant writer and her descriptions of France, especially Marseilles, are beautiful and evocative. These things are obviously all to the good.

    Historical fiction is a risky proposition. The writer is expected to be true to the history, but place fictional characters in among the real characters of the time and place, and use those fictional characters to personalize history for the reader. Orringer has instead fictionalized a real person. That’s alright in principle, but I’m not at all comfortable with where she takes that in this book.

    There are some who suggest that Fry had a same-sex relationship in college and may have continued to have homosexual encounters as an adult, though married with children. Orringer jumps into this notion with both feet, inventing a character named Grant, who comes back into Fry’s life in France and rekindles a relationship that leads to a thriller-ish plot. This whole fictional plot comes to nearly dominate the book, and that goes too far for me. It’s an exciting story, sure, but it’s not Fry’s story.

  • Julius Adams

    I will be a naysayer here....I must be getting old because this novel is like so many others that are not doing it for me. The true story is so much better than this! And it is an important story about what was happening then, and also for our times. But this tritely written book is not the answer. Why turn this into fiction, with an understory of gay love that didn't happen and that detracts from the real happenings? And the dialogue is horrendous. Please, do yourself a favor and read the non-f

    I will be a naysayer here....I must be getting old because this novel is like so many others that are not doing it for me. The true story is so much better than this! And it is an important story about what was happening then, and also for our times. But this tritely written book is not the answer. Why turn this into fiction, with an understory of gay love that didn't happen and that detracts from the real happenings? And the dialogue is horrendous. Please, do yourself a favor and read the non-fiction versions of these events. They are just so much better and these true stories deserve better.

  • Book of the Month

    Why I love it

    by Brianna Goodman

    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

    . So when I tell you this book reignited

    Why I love it

    by Brianna Goodman

    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

    . 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.

    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

    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.

    Read more at:

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