There are times in our past that are so horrific, and yet so monumental,  that the story must be told again and again. The trick, of course is to find a way to tell the story in a new and engaging way, that captures the interest and holds the attention of an audience. The Flight Portfolio is one of those stories.

In The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer tells us the story of Varian Fry, a Harvard educated, sexually confused, New York Protestant. In 1940 Varian Fry is in Marseilles France working to help significant writers, artists and intellectuals (most of whom are Jewish) blacklisted by the Nazis, get out of France. Fry is working for the Emergency Rescue Committee, headquartered in New York City. The mission is simply a matter of life and death.

The job involves relationships, money and bribery. Fry assembles an eccentric group of refugees, displaced do gooders and others to help with the mission. They develop relationships with the not always helpful or friendly American Consulate, French police, Nazis, gangsters and profiteers—anyone who can help or be bribed to help in getting people to safety. During a good portion of the story, much of the staff and many of the refugees are living together in a villa known as Air Bel, where food is scarce and raids are frequent.
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The Great BelieversThe Great Believers is a story of the AIDS epidemic, its victims and its survivors. The story is told in alternating years, beginning with 1985 in Chicago and moving to 2015 in Paris.

The story starts with Nico’s funeral and funeral reception. Nico had died 3 weeks before the story begins. This part of the story focuses on Yale (and Charlie) and Nico’s sister, Fiona. Yale works in development at Northwestern University at the Briggs Gallery. Charlie is a gay rights activist and runs “Outloud Chicago”. Charlie and Yale have been in a long term monogamous relationship.

Nico’s parents threw him out of the house at the age of 15 when they found out he was gay. Fiona was 11 at the time and began bringing him food and money. Nico’s partner, Terrence, is just waiting for the disease to hit him.

The funeral reception takes place at photographer Richard Campo’s home. Richard is about 15 years older than the rest of the group. When someone at the party brings out slides of Nico, Yale is so upset he goes upstairs to get away from the pictures. When he comes back down everyone is gone. It is this event that causes a permanent and insoluble rift between Yale and Charlie.
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The Stationery Shop“The Stationery Shop” is a sweet, overly sentimental story of a woman’s life journey from heartbreak in Iran to ultimate consolation in America.

Roya Khanom, a 17 year old high school senior in Tehran, meets Bahman Aslan at the Stationery Store in Tehran. They start meeting there on Tuesdays and with the assistance of the store proprietor, Mr. Fakhri, begin to know each other and fall in love. Bahman is a political activist supporting the Iranian prime minister Massadegh.

Bahman‘s father is a successful engineer and his mother, Badri, married up from her modest beginnings. But Badri has many secrets and does not approve of the romance between Bahman and Roya. Badri has chosen another girl for Bahman, from a much more successful family.

When Bahman requests approval from Roya’s parents to marry Roya, his parents do not join him, which is the tradition. At the engagement party for the couple, Badri shows up wearing all black.
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I actually do not know how to describe this rather odd book. At first blush, it is a peculiar story about a search for the missing daughter of a friend, which takes the protagonist into an unknown world. However, I do not think that is what this book is about. I think this book is about politics and judgement and about how we have lost our way. But I am not sure.

The book starts with Phoebe driving through Upland, California looking for a detective’s office. Phoebe is from Manhattan and the description of how she feels searching for this office after driving past it twice is wonderful. “It was the feeling, specifically, that it was a place for driving past,  so my foot couldn’t find the brake.” There are little gems like this throughout the book.

The detective is Charles Heist, who keeps an opossum in his desk drawer and a runaway in his armoire. Needless to say he is unconventional and of course Phoebe falls for him.

Phoebe is looking for Arabella, the daughter of her friend Roslyn. Roslyn and Phoebe met at work at NPR, where Phoebe was working in the OpEd department and Roslyn, 20 years her senior, was her supervisor. Phoebe quit her job over her perception that NPR had normalized Donald Trump during the election.
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My Sister the Serial KillerMy Sister the Serial Killer may be the most literal title of any novel I have posted here. The novel is one sister’s story about her sister who kills her lovers, in what seems like rapid succession.

Korede, the older less attractive sister, is a nurse at St. Peter’s in Lagos. Ayoola, her beautiful younger

The Nickel BoysLet me start by saying this is an excellent book. This is a very sad book but it is an excellent book.

The Nickel Boys is the story of Elwood Curtis, an African American teenager with immense potential whose life and future take an unexpected turn. In 1962 Elwood’s grandmother gives him a copy of

Varina“Varina” is the fictionalized story of Varina Davis, wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The novel starts in 1906, when James Blake tracks down Varina at The Retreat, in Saratoga Springs. James, a 46 year old biracial school teacher, had been raised by Varina and lived with her family until he was around 6 years

Machines Like MeThose of you who follow my blog know that I rarely start a review with my opinion about a book. Well rarely, but not never. Machines Like Me is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The writing is amazing, the story is captivating and intriguing and the interplay between

Unsheltered is a none too subtle examination of the times we live in, and the blinders that prevent us, and likely have always prevented us, from being our true selves and securing a meaningful future. The story takes place today and in the 1870s in Vineland, New Jersey. Today’s story and the story of yesterday

“Milkman” is a novel that is difficult to describe. It is not clear exactly where it takes place (somewhere in Northern Ireland) and none of the characters have names (at least not what we think of as proper names). Some of the paragraphs go on for pages and the writing style can be described best