Because author Meg Waite Clayton used quotes from actual World War II correspondents at the beginning of each chapter of The Race for Paris, her fictional characters took on the aura of their actual colleagues. Clayton's characters, Jane and Olivia, two women covering the war, are in this novel, contemporaries of Margaret Bourke-White, Martha Gelhorn, Ernie Pyle and other real journalists. Jane and Olivia have met them or know of them, and desperately want to beat them to Paris, where the Allies will liberate France from the Nazis in August, 1944 and end the war.
Meg Clayton obviously did extensive research, adding to the authenticity and realism of the tale. Many scenes in the book are based on real events that occurred in real towns in France, Belgium and the Netherlands in the summer of 1944 as the war came to an end.
The story is told from the first person point of view of Jane, a young journalist for the Nashville Banner. At an army field hospital in Normandy, she meets Olivia (Liv), an Associated Press photographer who is so determined to cover the victory that she goes AWOL rather than waste time fighting the protocol that works against women in the combat zone. Jane immediately sees her chance to become recognized as a serious journalist and runs off with her. They soon meet Fletcher, a British male reporter who reluctantly lets them accompany him and helps them elude the Military Police hot on their trail.
The women sometimes sent their stories and photos out under Fletcher's name to conceal their whereabouts from the MPs. Jane, the daughter of a poor single mother, looks up to Liv, who is married to a well-known newspaperman. Soon she has romantic feelings for Fletcher, feelings she conceals as his growing affection for Liv becomes clear.
The two "girl reporters," as they are called by almost everyone they meet, encounter regulations and military officers determined to stop them, and even Liv's husband starts a rumor she is pregnant so she will be sent home. He wants to be seen as supporting her yet he fears for her safety, and this rumor is his cover story for getting her back.
Precursors to today's women war reporters (for example, Christiane Amanpour and Martha Raddatz), Jane and Liv sleep in foxholes, drink cold powdered coffee and dodge bullets, all in the service of bringing the war back home to their readers.
As Jane and Liv lie in an open field at night, their helmets on and their bodies under a jeep but with their heads out so they can see the stars, Jane relates this conversation.
"I'm not smart at knowing who to love," I said.
"No one is," Liv said. "That's the problem with love."
The concerns of a young woman, even amid the horror of war, are not treated lightly here. In fact, when death seems near and no one is completely safe, love and home are often on everyone's mind.
This is the first World War II novel I have read that treats the subject from the perspective of a female correspondent, making it more relatable for me as a reporter for a local newspaper. These women were truly dedicated to the truth and worked against enormous odds to bring their stories to light. Censors would redact whole sections to disguise their location, or to conceal losses from the folks at home lest their morale be affected. Jane received a letter at the front from the White House.
Dear Miss Tyler,
The censors had cut the last part of Jane's story to conceal the fact that the soldier had died.
Your compassionate portrayal of the nurse helping save the wounded boy in "Operating Room by Flashlight" will surely help convince American women how dearly the auxiliary military services need them. Thank you for writing it.
Very sincerely yours,
Reading this reminded me of the letter my mother received from my dad, stationed in the Pacific during this war.
"I'll let you know where I am as soon as we get there," he wrote.
It was seventy years ago, and it was only yesterday. That's what made this book so real to me.
The censor added a note: "Not if I can help it."
Read an excerpt from this book.
Meg Waite Clayton has written for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Runner's World, and public radio, often on the subject of the particular challenges women face. She is a former corporate lawyer who began writing at 32. Her first novel, The Language of Light, was published when her second son was eleven. Clayton has lived in 15 different homes and said goodbye to many dear friends before settling in Palo Alto, CA, which she says explains why friendship is at the core of her writing. Visit her website.
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