The Paris Orphan

Written by Natasha Lester
Review by Valerie Adolph

This powerful novel tells the story of female war correspondents in Europe during World War II. Its dual timelines, the WWII years and the early years of the 21st century, permit an all-encompassing resolution many years after most of the action.

The reader is introduced to Jessica May, a model for Vogue magazine in New York. The story moves from there to her covering bitter fighting in Italy. This abrupt transition occurs because the author closely follows the real-life experiences of war correspondent Lee Miller. From the outset, before she sets foot in Europe, Jessica’s access to places and people is severely limited by her gender. Official restrictions are exacerbated by lesser military officials, who use them to manipulate women correspondents.

The novel presents an engrossing picture of the human side of war – injured young soldiers, women raped by men of both sides, orphans too many to keep track of. Softening this is the romance of Jessica and Dan Hallworth, a US military officer. Their rare meetings, their love for the orphan, Victorine, and their mutual support and encouragement illuminate the possibility of a more caring future. The second romance is that of art handler D’Arcy Hallworth and Josh Vaughn, who meet in France as D’Arcy packs Jessica May’s now historic photographs for a 21st-century exhibition in Australia. Just as the time alternates between the 1940s and the early 21st century, so the settings switch between the agonies of warfare and the serene château, Lieu de Rêves, providing background to the stories of both Jessica and D’Arcy.

It is too easy to forget the role of women in warfare not so very long ago. This is a powerfully written reminder of events and attitudes that many of us now find difficult to understand.