“I suppose I prefer being in the thick of it,” American heiress Nanée Gold explains when asked why she hasn’t fled the dangers of Nazi-occupied France. She’s a flamboyant, daring character who flies a Vega Gull airplane and entertains friends with her beloved dog, Dagobert, who barks ferociously whenever he hears the name “Hitler.”
In The Postmistress of Paris, Meg Waite Clayton fictionalizes the fascinating story of Mary Jayne Gold, a wealthy American socialite who spent the early years of World War II helping to finance and shelter 2,000 Jewish and anti-Nazi refugees near Marseille, France, and aiding in their escapes over the Pyrenees. Gold worked with American journalist Varian Fry as part of the Emergency Rescue Committee, obtaining fake passports and planning escape routes to Spain and Portugal for luminaries such as Marc Chagall and Hannah Arendt. Clayton is well versed in this era, having written bestsellers The Race for Paris, about two female American journalists in 1944 France, and The Last Train to London, about the Kindertransport rescue.
Clayton excels at creating fictional worlds, weaving historical details with lively dialogue and rich scene-setting details. Readers meet Nanée in 1938 as she flies into Paris on a freezing cold night, quickly swaps out her wool stockings for silk and throws on several strings of pearls. She’s headed to a surrealist art exhibition, where she sees the works of Salvador Dalí and plays party games with André Breton. Danger is at the doorstep, but life is a joyful whirlwind for Nanée—until the Nazis invade Paris, abruptly forcing her to escape to the countryside near Marseille, where she rents a villa to house her artist friends.
Nanée falls in love with fictional Jewish German photographer Edouard Moss, a widower with a young daughter named Luki. Much of the novel focuses on Nanée’s attempts to rescue Edouard from a French labor camp, reunite him with his daughter and get the pair out of the country. While Clayton superbly crafts banter, parlor games, romance and philosophical discussions among her cast of talented, intellectual characters, her writing is at its sharpest whenever Nanée faces great danger—which is often. Tension builds throughout the novel, culminating in a grueling, dangerous escape attempt that’s full of surprises. Fans of Kate Quinn and Kristin Hannah will want to dive right into The Postmistress of Paris.