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The Flight Portfolio
Cover of The Flight Portfolio
The Flight Portfolio
A novel
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MARSEILLE, 1940. Varian Fry, a Harvard-educated journalist and editor, arrives in France. Recognizing the darkness descending over Europe, he and a group of like-minded New Yorkers formed the Emergency Rescue Committee, helping artists and writers escape from the Nazis and immigrate to the United States. Now, amid the chaos of World War II, and in defiance of restrictive U.S. immigration policies, Fry must procure false passports, secure visas, seek out escape routes through the Pyrenees and by sea, and make impossible decisions about who should be saved, all while under profound pressure—and in a state of irrevocable personal change. In this dazzling work of historical fiction—one that illuminates previously unexplored elements of Fry's story, and has, since its publication, brought us new insight into his life—Julie Orringer, award-winning author of The Invisible Bridge, has crafted a gripping tale of forbidden love, high-stakes adventure, and unimaginable courage.
MARSEILLE, 1940. Varian Fry, a Harvard-educated journalist and editor, arrives in France. Recognizing the darkness descending over Europe, he and a group of like-minded New Yorkers formed the Emergency Rescue Committee, helping artists and writers escape from the Nazis and immigrate to the United States. Now, amid the chaos of World War II, and in defiance of restrictive U.S. immigration policies, Fry must procure false passports, secure visas, seek out escape routes through the Pyrenees and by sea, and make impossible decisions about who should be saved, all while under profound pressure—and in a state of irrevocable personal change. In this dazzling work of historical fiction—one that illuminates previously unexplored elements of Fry's story, and has, since its publication, brought us new insight into his life—Julie Orringer, award-winning author of The Invisible Bridge, has crafted a gripping tale of forbidden love, high-stakes adventure, and unimaginable courage.
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  • From the book I

    Gordes

    There was, it turned out, no train to the village where the Chagalls lived: one of many complications he'd failed to anticipate. He had to pay a boy with a motorbike to run him up from the station at Cavail­lon, ten miles at a brainshaking pace along a narrow rutted road. On either side rose ochre hills striated with grapevines and lavender and olive trees; overhead, a blinding white-veined sky. The smell was of the boy's leather jacket and of charred potatoes, exhalate of his clever homemade fuel. At the foot of the village the boy parked in a shadow, accepted Varian's francs, and tore off into the distance before Varian could arrange a ride back.

    The streets of Gordes, carved into a sunstruck limestone hill above the Luberon Valley, offered little in the way of shade. He would have given anything to be back in Marseille with a glass of Aperol before him, watching sailors and girls, gangsters and spice vendors, parading the Canebière. The Chagalls had only agreed to see him on the basis that he not bring up the prospect of their emigration. But what other subject was there? The Nazis had taken Paris months ago, they were burning books in the streets of Alsace, they could send any refugee over the border at will. At least the Chagalls had agreed; that was something. But as he reached the house, an ancient Catholic girls' school on the rue de la Fontaine Basse, he found himself fighting the urge to flee. His credentials, if anyone examined them, amounted to a fanatic's knowledge of European history, a desire to get out from behind his desk in New York, and a deep frustration with his isola­tionist nation. And yet this was his job; he'd volunteered for it. What was more, he believed he could do it. He raised his hand and knocked.

    An eye appeared in the brass circlet of the peephole, and a girl in a striped apron opened the door. She listened, strangling her index finger with one dark curl, as he stated his name and mission. Then she ushered him down a corridor and out into a courtyard, where a stone path led to a triangle of shade. There, at a bare wooden table, Chagall and his wife sat at lunch: the painter in his smock, his hair swept back from his forehead in silver waves; Bella in a close-fitting black dress too hot for the day.

    "Ah, Monsieur Fry," Chagall said, rising to meet him. The painter's eyes were large and uncommonly sharp, his expression one of bemuse­ment. "You've come after all. I thought you might. You won't forget our agreement, will you?"

    "All I want is your company for an hour."

    "You're lying, of course. But you lie charmingly."

    They sat together at the table, Bella on Varian's left, the painter to his right—he, Varian Fry, sitting down with the Chagalls, with Chagall, author of those color-saturated visions, those buoyant bridal couples and intelligent-eyed goats he'd seen in hushed rooms at the Museum of Modern Art. Bella filled a plate with brown hard-crusted miche, soft cheese, sardines crackling with salt; she handed it across the table, assessing Varian in silence.

    "Had you been here a few days ago, we would have had tomatoes," Chagall said. "A farmer brings them up to the market on Thursdays. I'm sorry we don't have more to offer. The bread's a little hard on the tooth, I'm afraid, but c'est la guerre!"

    "This is lavish," Varian said. "You're too kind."

    "Not at all. We like to share what we have." He gestured around him at the bare yellow stones, the rough benches, the shock of gold-green hillside visible through an archway in the wall. "As you see, we're living a quiet and retired life in our little...
About the Author-
  • Julie Orringer is the New York Timesbest-selling author of two award-winning books: The Invisible Bridge, a novel, and How to Breathe Underwater, a collection of stories. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Cullman Center at the New York Public Library, the MacDowell Colony, and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and children. www.julieorringer.com
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    After 2003's How To Breathe Underwater, a New York Times Notable Book, and 2010's Orange Prize long-listed The Invisible Bridge, let's celebrate Orringer's return. Here she draws on the true story of American journalist Varian Fry, who helped Jewish artists flee occupied Europe during the Holocaust. With a 75,000-copy first printing.

    Copyright 1 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from March 1, 2019
    An elegant, meditative novelistic reconstruction of critical years in the life of Varian Fry, the American classicist who is honored at Yad Vashem as "righteous among the nations" for his work rescuing victims of the Holocaust.Focusing on the era that informed her first novel, The Invisible Bridge (2010), Orringer opens with an encounter in which Marc Chagall, one of the most beloved of modern artists, figures. He is living in Vichy France, convinced that because it is France he will be kept safe from the Nazis--"These things happened in Germany." he says. "They won't happen here. Not to us." His interlocutor is Varian Fry, who, under the auspices of the Emergency Rescue Committee, is combing the country for a couple of hundred "artists, writers, and intellectuals," most of them Jewish or politically suspect, who similarly imagined themselves to be safe in France even as the Holocaust begins to unfold and the Gestapo arrest lists lengthen. Fry has allowed himself a month to get those 200 sure victims to safety, and in doing so, as his old friend--and more--Elliott Grant, a shadowy figure of many connections, warns him, he is proving "inconvenient to the American diplomatic mission in France." The cloak-and-dagger element of Orringer's story is effective, though it runs somewhat long. Woven into the action is the slow reconciliation between Fry and Grant, whose friendship is deep but at first tentative, finally heating. Orringer nicely captures two worlds, the fraught one of refugee rescue and the more genteel but still complicated one of intellectuals in orbit, with the likes of Peggy Guggenheim, Max Ernst, and Victor Serge among the cast of characters. The central point of intrigue, providing a fine plot twist, is also expertly handled, evidence of an accomplished storyteller at work.Altogether satisfying. Mix Alan Furst and André Aciman, and you'll have a feel for the territory in which this well-plotted book falls.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 25, 2019
    Orringer’s magnificent novel is centered around American journalist Varian Fry’s work helping imperiled refugees out of Nazi-occupied France. In 1940, Fry leaves his wife and job behind in New York and travels to Marseille for the Emergency Rescue Committee, formed to get prominent intellectuals and creative artists safely to America. Faced with meager resources, an enormous task, and suspicion from both the Vichy and U.S. governments, Fry makes anguished decisions about which “clients” to help and which to leave in danger. Then he is contacted by his one-time Harvard classmate Elliott Schiffman Grant, with whom he shared an intense mutual attraction. “Skiff,” who vanished from Fry’s life without explanation 12 years before, wants helps getting his German-born Jewish lover, Gregor Katznelson, and Katznelson’s son out of Europe. Fry falls in love with Grant again as he makes increasingly high-stakes decisions about who, and what, to save. As in 2010’s superb The Invisible Bridge, Orringer seamlessly combines compelling inventions with complex fact: figures including Marc Chagall and Andre Breton make vivid appearances, while Skiff and his relationship with Fry are unforgettable fictional creations. Brilliantly conceived, impeccably crafted, and showcasing Orringer’s extraordinary gifts, this is destined to become a classic. Agent: Kimberly Witherspoon, InkWell Management.

  • Booklist

    April 15, 2019
    Orringer's (The Invisible Bridge, 2010) gripping second novel centers on Varian Fry, the American editor who undertook great risk to rescue endangered European artists and intellectuals from the Holocaust. Overseeing the Emergency Rescue Committee's work in 1940 Marseille, Varian and his fellow activists use delicate personal connections to ensure high-profile refugees' escape from Vichy France through legal and illegal means, amid limited finances and a less-than-supportive State Department. Into this high-pressure atmosphere arrives Elliott Grant, Varian's (imaginary) former lover, requesting a complicated favor. Through their revived affair, the story explores issues of identity and living one's authentic self. Grant is a convincing creation, but readers may be uneasy that considerable emotional weight and suspense hinge on a historical character's fictional relationship and its repercussions. Still, Orringer is a beautiful prose stylist who captures depth of meaning about complex human issues, and she addresses head-on the moral dilemma of making value judgments on individual lives. Ultimately Orringer crafts a vivid portrait of wartime Marseille, its innate sophistication darkened by Nazi oppression, and of Fry's heroic real-life accomplishments.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

  • The New Yorker "A gripping, tender novel."
  • The Boston Globe "Magnificent . . . a deeply researched, almost unbearably tense, bruised-knuckle hybrid. Part real history and part love story, it's also a deeply moral work, asking tough questions about what matters most to us personally--and to the world."
  • Cynthia Ozick, The New York Times Book Review "Sympathetic and prodigiously ambitious. . . . [Orringer's] Marseille breathes as a city breathes."
  • Entertainment Weekly "Gorgeous. . . . Classic storytelling through a transgressive lens. The Flight Portfolio offers a testament to . . . the enduring transformative power of art, and love, in any form."
  • The Seattle Times "Extraordinary. . . . Orringer has delivered a story with a splendid cast of characters and an intoxicating portrait of a time and place. . . . There's suspense and tragedy, unexpected twists and deliverance."
  • The Wall Street Journal "Passionate and thoroughgoing. . . . [The Flight Portfolio] brings to light a truly inspiring episode in history."
  • Michael Chabon, author of Moonglow "Varian Fry lit a small, bright lamp in a world of darkness, and in the deft hands of Julie Orringer--under the spell of her masterful prose, her feeling portraiture, her classic spy-thriller plotting, and her vivid re-creation of that beautiful and terrible world--I found the radiance of Fry's courage, flawed humanity, and steadfast resistance shedding an inexhaustible light on our own ever-darkening time."
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