Mission to Paris by Alan Furst (2012)
I am writing this on the eve of our own election, when I feel great fear for our nation, as I think it is a very important choice we are making this time. The final result is not clear, and even if reason prevails and my candidate is reelected, there will be close to half the population disappointed, thinking the other side could provide some magic bullet to all our problems. I do not want to get into these specifics, but into the feeling of uncertainty, which must have been felt throughout Europe in 1938. They thought that they had already fought the war to end all wars 20 years earlier, and now there were some that thought it wise to arm themselves against the Germans, while others thought it a waste of money and wanted peaceful talks and compromises. Now I would tend to be the one on the side of peaceful talks, but knowing history, and understanding from this novel that a lot of that talk was fueled by Hitler's spies, I begin to understand the uncertainty in France at the time.
Our hero is Frederick Stahl, an Austrian who has gone to Hollywood to act, but has been asked to film a movie in Paris. The Germans try to use him for their propaganda purposes, and he tries to avoid this as much as possible, but gets pulled into the intrigues of the war. There are lovely women around him, like Kiki from the German baroness' party or Olga, who he meets in Germany, or his own costume designer Renata, a Jew who has managed to flee Germany. One scene really hit me - when the film requires filming on location in Romania, but the company will not pay for plane tickets, and they have a substantial part of their crew that cannot be caught in Germany, as they have left illegally, they have a dilemma. The more wealthy actors and film crew pitch in to buy the plane tickets for those who can't take the train. Someone makes a comment about why can't all of France work this way. There was later some reference to the Jewish studio owners helping out, but I was wondering why they didn't realize the situation with the crew in the first place, but maybe they didn't realize the direness of the situation.
What starts out as just some uncomfortable situations and veiled threats, becomes a full blown thriller with guns and dangerous escapes, which makes for an exciting read. Except then I realize how many people did not make it through and lost their lives at this time in history. I had never thought of the psychological warfare of this time and was glad to fill in one more small square in my understanding of history.