As the Normandy invasion’s ground forces advanced across the French countryside, the obvious objective was to liberate Paris. Allied forces crept at a snail’s pace, encountering mine fields and holdouts along the way.
In 1940, when Paris surrendered to Nazi Germany, the event was documented. Footage of a triumphant Hitler in a motorcade, driving around all the landmarks of the city, flickered across the movie screen newsreels everywhere. It was a sobering image. The capital of western Europe was under the Kaiser’s thumb.
Documenting its impending liberation promised to be even more affecting. Photographers and journalists wanted to the first to reach Paris and send a dispatch back to their outlets. Being on the frontlines and seeing Paris liberated was no easy feat for a soldier, never mind an artist. For female photographer, this was all but forbidden.
Military orders allowed only approved journalists in very limited situations. Women were further discouraged and often assigned to secondary detachments.
The Race for Paris is a novel inspired by these women. No single character represents any one of these real life heroes, but they face the same difficulties as their counterparts. Sleeping in shabby tents, if they were lucky, or under jeeps along the road, hoping that artillery fire will remain at a medium distance.
In The Race for Paris, the main characters ditch official orders, which would keep them away from the principal action, and go AWOL.
Liv and I would never get accredited to the front; we knew that. Not in any event and certainly not now, not after we’d left the field hospital in flagrant violation of our CO’s direct orders. I watched through the cracked windshield as Fletcher disappeared into the château, thinking we were going to be found out before the day was over, turned over to the authorities, arrested and sent back to a nurses’ camp in London where they knew how to watch girls like us lest we escape over the fence like Martha Gellhorn had. ~Pg. 75
Though the reader knows what happens to Paris, we don’t know what will happen with the characters. As the characters are solidified and the plot picks up, the book becomes much more intriguing. Readers should commit to sticking with it during those early chapters.
The weakest portion comes at the end, after the liberation of Paris. The novel continues for several pages as the characters continue with the Allied forces. But the goal is gone. Perhaps it is meant to highlight the emptiness for all those who dedicate themselves so wholeheartedly to a life-or-death situation when it is over. However, the story just sort of wanders after the denouement in Paris.
Overall, it’s engaging. I’m most hopeful it will encourage readers to explore the true lives of the women who took the ultimate risk to bring back stunning imagery and stories.
Thank you to HarperCollins for the galley.
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Harper (August 11, 2015)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches