Sharon's Reviews > The Flight Portfolio

The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer
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it was amazing

I came across this book at the same time I was reading Mary Gabriel’s newest, Ninth Street Women: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art, an impressive combination of 20th century history and the Manhattan art scene. The influx of Jewish artists fleeing Hitler, many arriving in New York, created a Petrie dish of creativity that developed into the American Abstractionists and the New York School. Flight Portfolio seemed like a perfect companion book, and I was beyond frustrated to discover that the first quarter of the book is given over to Fry’s gay love affair. Later I appreciated the level of complexity that it contributed but as they say, less is more.

Fry’s mandate was to help extricate 200 known artists from Vichy France and into safe keeping. But as Fry soon discovered, the US didn’t want the refugees he was sending. He agonized and “wasn’t going to sit by and watch the European cultural pantheon burn. Benjamin was dead. Others would follow.” The consulate was less than helpful and ultimately obstructive, so much of the financial support for their work came from private donations.

He became so frantic to save these brilliant artists that he began to prioritize who should get out first. The author raises the question of what makes one life more valuable than another one when Fry is repeatedly reminded that life is life, how could he weigh one against another. In fact, the captain of the black market ship he used to smuggle out refugees lectured him: “Here was Marseille’s chief gangster, trader in human capital, disposer of bodies in the Vieux Port, moralizing to him about the absolute value of human life. ‘Thanks Charles, he said, I believe I’ll take myself home now and meditate on that.” He didn’t.

Even Hannah Arendt called him up on it when he told her that he was told to pull out all stops for her. She replied, “Don’t you pull them out for everyone, Herr Fry?” As the Vichy noose tightened, his desperation to save these artist treasures intensified to the point that he was blinded to the desperate measures a father would go to to save his son. If you find the beginning difficult, hang in there because you’ll soon be flipping pages, especially near the end.
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Reading Progress

May 4, 2019 – Started Reading
May 4, 2019 – Shelved
May 7, 2019 – Finished Reading

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Elyse Walters Fantastic review Sharon

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