Review: Avenue of Spies

Avenue of Spies:  A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and one American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris by Alex Kershaw

Crown, 2015.  Hardcover, 304 pages.Cover: Avenue of Spies

Kershaw’s latest book focuses on the experiences of an American family in Nazi-Occupied Paris.*  Dr. Sumner Jackson was a doctor at the American Hospital of Paris.  Along with his Swiss-born wife, Toquette, and their son, Phillip, Sumner opted not to leave Paris as the Nazi’s invaded in 1940.  Instead, he remained to run the hospital.  With few American’s in the city, many of the patients he treated were wounded French and British soldiers.  Eventually, Sumner took his duties further and he began to help Allied personnel to escape.  Sometimes he temporarily housed downed airmen.  Others, Sumner falsified papers to show a man was dead so the man could escape.  And Sumner did all of this while managing the hospital with dwindling supplies.  The book does explain well how he managed to keep the hospital open and out of Nazi hands, even once the United States entered the war.

Sumner was not the only member of his family resisting the occupiers.  Toquette allowed their apartment to become a drop place for information for resistance members.  Phillip often defied rules of the captors, including writing or drawing pro-French slogans or images on walls.

The Jackson family was not in a safe place to be conducting these activities.  They lived on Foch Avenue, a street that during the occupation held multiple Gestapo, SS, and Abwher offices, including torture centers.  They literally lived among the Germans they were resisting and could have been captured at any point of time.  The book even talks about how Phillip walked a different route to school once the occupation began to avoid as many Nazi’s as possible.  Sadly, their luck did not hold until France regained its freedom and the last section dealt with the Jacksons once they were forced from their home.  It detailed what happened to each member of the family, including the times spent in various internment or concentration camps as political prisoners, and their extended family’s struggle to see them freed.

After highly anticipating the release of this book, I was disappointed.  I felt Kershaw spent too much time covering Nazi-Occupied Paris and not enough on the Jackson family for the majority of the book (the last section was the exception to this pattern).  I also felt that even that coverage was scant; it was only a bare-bones outline of events with a strong focus on Helmut Knochen, the head of Paris Gestapo, and his men.  Even Brave Genius which I reviewed back in November, 2014, provided better and more in-depth coverage of Occupied Paris and that wasn’t even the book’s main focus.  Also, Knochen was the book’s fourth “main character” who at time dominated whole chapters.  That said, the book was a quick and easy read.  It could also inform readers as to the condition of Occupied-Paris if they have not read another book that addresses the topic.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of Avenue of Spies from the publisher for review.  This book releases tomorrow, 8/4/15.

Do you think you will read Avenue of Spies?  Do you have another book to suggest on either resistance efforts in World War II or Occupied Paris?  I have several of the former on my to-read list and wish to read When Paris Went Dark, a award-winning title on the Nazi-Occupation.

*Also the Wikipedia article for more depth on the political situation since the linked Washington Post story is more social.

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