Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

I first heard of The Race for Paris when Margaret Atwood mentioned that she was reading it. It was also the perfect book to pick up as we left France and Normandy in July. 

The book is a work of fiction, but with the quotes and references to real-life female journalists and photographers who covered WWII, it reads like a personal account or memoir. After the invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, the allied armies set about to liberate the French countryside towns on their way to the liberation of Paris. 

The novel's three main characters are Jane Tyler, Liv Harper, and Fletcher Roebuck. Jane is a reporter from the Nashville Banner, Liv, a photographer who is married to Charles, editor of The New York Daily Press, and Fletcher who is a credentialed war photographer. The three team up to be the first in Paris to report the ultimate liberation. Although Jane narrates the novel, it is really Liv's book and a tribute to her. 

Female journalists were often under undue regulations as they attempted to cover the war. Liv requested a jeep to go to the front, was denied by a commanding officer, and so convinces Jane to go AWOL from her position at a hospital. They meet up with Fletcher whom they convince to accompany them on their quest. What ensues is a action filled account of their goal of reaching Paris. 

The three not only have to avoid being discovered for fear of being sent back to their homes, but also to avoid the German defenses and bombs. As they journey through the small towns, finding places to sleep and rations to eat, the reader senses a commitment to the cause, but also to each other among the three. The book is a tribute to the courage of those who covered the war, but especially the woman who faced event greater hardships. Witnessing a childbirth in a cave where a group of Jewish people were hiding was so poignant, disturbing, and revealing more than anyone could imagine. I was angered by the fact that the male correspondents were handed virtually everything, but the women were denied so much - to the extent that Liv could not submit her photos with her name. 

There is also a bit of romance that is written into the account. It develops as a triangle between Liv and Fletcher and Jane and added to the angst of the harrowing war scenes. But as the book draws to a conclusion, it seems to be a natural progression.  Liv's husband's conduct disturbed me very much. Encouraging her to take on the job of covering the war, he then seems to undermine her work by starting rumors, having multiple affairs, and underhandedly trying to have MPs arrest her.

In addition to the story that it tells The Race For Paris is a tribute to those women who covered the war. Interspersed in the story are quotes by and references to Ruth Cowan, Margaret Bourke-White, Iris Carpenter, Martha Gellhorn,  Lee Miller, and Dickey Chapelle. Also figuring prominently in the book was Ernie Pyle.

This was a very enlightening book and one where the words on the page conjured pictures in my imagination that I saw from having visited some of the towns referenced. It was a great read as a culmination to our French journey.

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