“Why do you persist, then? Why do you care so very much about the fate of your organization, and so little about your own welfare, when the people you’re assisting — Jews, anti-Nazis, degenerate Negroid artists like Wifredo Lam, sexual inverts like Konstantinov — are the basest forms of human kind? Look at you. You’re a thinking man, a Christian man, educated at the best American institutions. Why are you imperiling yourself for the sake of that filth? How do you justify it?”
“Is this official business, Captain?”
“I’m asking merely from personal curiosity. Tell me why.”
“Those people are my people,” Varian said. “If I don’t help them, no one will.”The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer
In an interview on CNN just the other day, Stephen Miller made the assertion that — as a Jew — he was outraged by the accusations by left-wing politicians like AOC that the detainment centers on the border were comparable to those desolate and fatal camps of the Holocaust. And yet, stories emerge every day of the lack of care given not just to children, but to men and women alike in their wait for sentencing, of freedom or — more likely — deportation.
Around the world, the issue of gay marriage and the rights that come along with its recognition is one that is still widely debated. You don’t have to dig into Google News far to find stories of brutalization of homosexual individuals, or the long-awaited and damn-near-time legalization of same-sex marriage. In Northern Ireland, it wasn’t until this past January that lesbian couples were both allowed to assert parentage on the birth certificate of their children — something that previously would have separated families upon the death of the listed mother.
And, of course, still we face racism in its most potent form in the United States, particularly with the rise of White Supremacist marches and the vibrancy of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Enter The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer, a plot placed so clearly and factually in the turn of the 1940s but with the bite of the present at the heels of the reader’s every page. Loosely based on the life of Varian Fry, an activist in Nazi-occupied France who smuggled thousands of refugees out of the annexed territory who also happened to be a discreetly practicing homosexual, the story follows his work as leader of the Emergency Rescue Committee, the lives of the team he assembles, the rescues of the refugees, and — in a progressive shift — his passionate love affair with Grant, a passing half-black academic from his college days. The scene set, Orringer is able to write parallelisms to contemporary debates on refugee acceptance, homosexuality, and race in one swift read that pulls at the heartstrings while also provoking the synapses to work at all cylinders.
While I found it a slow and prodding read, I did thoroughly enjoy The Flight Portfolio (the first of my Book of the Month Club subscription deliveries) as it prompted many thorough trips down the rabbit hole on The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and Medium alike. I became actively curious not only of the past but also about our current domestic and global climate and the future that was most likely to result from our present choices. The Flight Portfolio may not have pushed into the most scandalous and heart-pounding depths of my library, but it did prove to be one of the most educating and engaging reads — a read that made me a more determined citizen.
I will say that the one disappointment at the end was the revelation in the Author’s Note that most of the characters, interactions, and plot were fictionalized for the purpose of creating a world that could prove parallel. And though I admire Orringer’s originality and ability to build from bare bones of history, I did wish that Grant was real and that he and Varian had lived their lives in coupled bliss after the four-hundred pages of will-they-won’t-they.
Of course, I am always susceptible to a love story. And so, I have to end this post with what I think has to be one of the most impressionable quotes about love — true love, regardless of its form — that I have ever come across. I would save it for a post for my Candidly Dating column, but who knows when I will finally meet someone who makes me feel this way. It’s better to share than to withhold, for maybe you need this in your life, dear Reader.
But that was how we recognized love, he thought: It made the exception. It was the case that broke the paradigm, the burning anomaly. In its light we failed at first to recognize ourselves, then saw ourselves clearly for the first time. It revealed our boundaries to be mutable; it forced us to shout yes when we’d spent our lives say noThe Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer
All my love x