Julie Orringer’s magnificent second novel...is a deeply researched, almost unbearably tense, bruised-knuckle hybrid. Part real history and part love story, it’s also a deeply moral work, asking tough question about what matters most to us personally—and to the world ... Although deeply concerned with politics, at its heart, the novel is a love story ... The writing is gorgeous. Marseille comes alive, and so does the palpable terror of its denizens who are desperate to escape. Occasionally, Orringer overexplains, repeating her messages about the Flight Portfolio, having Elliott and Fry dissect their relationship perhaps one time too many. But these are quibbles in an important book that poses important questions[.]
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.