Orringer is a blue-chip writer ... [her] books are of the kind invariably reviewed using the same small cachet of words: rich, sweeping, ambitious, heartfelt, exquisite. To her credit, Orringer earns them all. She’s a superb researcher, a natural storyteller and a clear writer. The Flight Portfolio is in a style I think of as high-unimpeachable, difficult but riskless, with only safe little darting flights of flamboyance ... But...one might begin to wonder about the idea of genius ... You might start by asking why so many geniuses have been white men, for instance ... But those difficulties aren’t within Orringer’s range ... The Flight Portfolio constructs...a satisfying and commanding novel. Yet the farther we get from living memory of the war, perhaps the less the novels about it...should be quite so rich, so sweeping, so satisfying.
...if the young Varian Fry once resembled a type of dramatically evolving character in fiction, he has now become, in Julie Orringer’s sympathetic and prodigiously ambitious novel, a fictional character himself ... Orringer’s scrupulous research into this turbulent period goes far beyond bookishness. Her landscapes regularly rise to a Keatsian sensuousness. Her Marseille breathes as a city breathes ... Orringer revivifies with cinematic verisimilitude ... For the historical Fry, beyond hunches and hints, there is no evidence of homosexuality. Yet Orringer makes it a part of his character, expanding on speculations by Fry’s biographer, Andy Marino ... Even the glamour of the homoerotic, which fuels Orringer’s engine of suspense, turns threadbare through overexposure. In scene after scene, Varian’s leg slides seductively (and also schematically) along Grant’s; or vice versa. The mind of the Varian Fry of The Flight Portfolio is Orringer’s mind, and how, in the war between history and imagination, can we deny her that? ... why should it matter that Orringer’s vertiginous unscrollings of event and intent, unfolding in the south of France in the very pit of Vichy brutality, are chiefly her own? But it does matter ... The Flight Portfolio is more Hitchcock than history. Then know, as you read on, excited and enthralled, that Orringer’s Varian is movie-tone make-believe. Do not mistake him for Varian Fry.
There’s all kinds of fraught swashbuckling and subterfuge in Orringer’s meticulously researched recounting...And a gorgeous sense of place...But it’s the sweeping gay romance at its center, and the daily moral quandaries of Fry’s job — how is one life more worth saving than another? — that make the book’s more familiar elements feel new; it’s classic storytelling through a transgressive lens. Portfolio offers a testament to something nicely old-fashioned, though, too: the enduring transformative power of art, and love, in any form.