The leafy Avenue Foch, one of the most exclusive residential streets in Nazi-occupied France, was Paris’s hotbed of daring spies, murderous secret police, amoral informers, and Vichy collaborators. So when American physician Sumner Jackson, who lived with his wife and young son Phillip at Number 11, found himself drawn into the Liberation network of the French resistance, he knew the stakes were impossibly high. Just down the road at Number 31 was the “mad sadist” Theodor Dannecker, an Eichmann protégé charged with deporting French Jews to concentration camps. And Number 84 housed the Parisian headquarters of the Gestapo, run by the most effective spy hunter in Nazi Germany.
From his office at the American Hospital, itself an epicenter of Allied and Axis intrigue, Jackson smuggled fallen Allied fighter pilots safely out of France, a job complicated by the hospital director’s close ties to collaborationist Vichy. After witnessing the brutal round-up of his Jewish friends, Jackson invited Liberation to officially operate out of his home at Number 11–but the noose soon began to tighten. When his secret life was discovered by his Nazi neighbors, he and his family were forced to undertake a journey into the dark heart of the war-torn continent from which there was little chance of return.
Drawing upon a wealth of primary source material and extensive interviews with Phillip Jackson, Alex Kershaw recreates the City of Light during its darkest days. The untold story of the Jackson family anchors the suspenseful narrative, and Kershaw dazzles readers with the vivid immediacy of the best spy thrillers. Awash with the tense atmosphere of World War II’s Europe, Avenue of Spies introduces us to the brave doctor who risked everything to defy Hitler.
I generally enjoy reading fiction books to non-fiction books, especially historical fiction. This is one of those rare non-fiction books that reads like fiction. I can’t ever remember staying up late into the night to finish a non-fiction book, but this one kept me up! I sat up late on the couch finishing the book because I couldn’t sleep until I found out what happened to Toquette, Philip, and Sumner.
The best part about this book is that readers learn about people that are not commonly known. I had never read about many of the Resistance fighters that were mentioned in the book. It was also interesting to read about and be reminded about the French people that were cooperative with the Nazis. I thought Kershaw did a great job presenting both sides in a factual way.
I also found it interesting when Kershaw referred to the round-up of French Jews, with the consent of the the Vichy government. I had read a fictionalized account of the event in Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, so I enjoyed making that connection. It isn’t something covered in a lot of books, so I was glad that Kershaw made mention of it.
The only criticism I could identify is that there is a lot of introduction of different people and it isn’t immediately clear how they relate to each other. However, I enjoyed reading about their different stories, so it didn’t bother me too much. Other readers might be bothered by it more than I was, so I mention it here.
If you are looking for a different perspective on the Nazi occupation of Paris, this is a great choice. I’m not sure that readers who are not WWII buffs would enjoy it as much as readers that are scholars of that time, but I couldn’t put it down!
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.