A Quiet American: The Secret War of Varian Fry

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9780312267674: A Quiet American: The Secret War of Varian Fry

The story of Varian Fry, called the "real Rick" of Casablanca, is perhaps one of the most unknown, yet extraordinary sagas of World War II. This penetrating biography follows Varian Fry through his adult life--from his beginnings in the 1930s as a Harvard graduate and political journalist to his arrival in Marseille in 1940 where he managed to spirit away thousands of Europe's cultural elite by falsifying passports, creating new identities, and always resorting to subterfuge.

The list of those saved includes: Hannah Arendt, Andre Breton, Franz Werful and his wife Alma Mahler, Heinrich Mann, Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz, Andre Masson, and Max Ernst among others.

A Quiet American is an effort to extensively examine the life of a genuine American hero whose political and cultural influence is still largely unacknowledged.

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Review:

What bookish, young Harvard man Varian Fry described as his "own little war" involved no small ambition: working under the nose of the Nazis through the early years of World War II, Fry set out almost single-handedly to rescue a hefty portion of Europe's cultural and intellectual capital. Literally boatloads of Europe's best and brightest minds--poets, scientists, philosophers, musicians, painters--found safe haven with Fry and safe passage from Europe, eluding the ubiquitous Gestapo plainclothesmen ("the green fedoras") and the street-by-street raids by their Vichy cronies. Writer Andrew Marino (Herschel: The Boy Who Started World War II), thanks in no small part to the earlier research of editor Donald Carroll, details the war years of this man, dubbed "America's Oskar Schindler" and the New York-based Emergency Rescue Committee that he helped found to fund his work.

Reading like a cross between Casablanca and A Year in Provence, A Quiet American follows Varian Fry from his tumultuous beginnings convincing (among others) Eleanor Roosevelt of the necessity of his mission to his work with gangsters and gun-runners in the streets of Marseilles in order to secure the safety of Europe's intelligentsia, including such luminaries as Marc Chagall, Heinrich Mann, Enrico Fermi, and Hannah Arendt. The comparison to Oskar Schindler is apt and well deserved, but Fry's tale is all the better for his unique transformation: while Schindler was something of an opportunist-made-good, Fry was an effete, preppy intellectual, sincerely inspired by idealistic notions, whose secret work shaped him into a scrappy, resourceful hero. --Paul Hughes

About the Author:

Andy Marino is the author of Herschel: The Boy Who Started World War II. He currently lives in North London.

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