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Yet another historical novel has emerged from the rubble of World War II: this time, The Paris Orphan (2019) by the Australian Natasha Lester. Featured therein is the plight of the first women photojournalists covering front line battles in Italy and France, to the pique of their male counterparts.

Like the protagonist Jessica May’s sensitivity to word and photo, the author weaves a compelling story. Of note is the balance struck between Jessica and Lieutenant Colonel Dan Hallworth, set against the atrocities of war; neither story overpowers the other. The inclusion of unexpected humor, from poignant to tender to gallows, together with the plot’s switchbacks makes this work. Even more compelling is her use of the dual timeline that fleshes out relationships, both authentic and sinister.

Names of real people, of memorable battle scenes, of old-world chateaux, of clothing, of Lucky Strikes, of language, attest to Lester’s research. She drew her Jessica after Lee Miller, a Vogue model-turned-war-correspondent, of considerable talent, during World War II. Martha Gelhorn, one of Hemingway’s wives, also palled with Jessica, making light of the filth that clung to them for days, sorrowing over the dead and maimed bodies in field hospitals and upon battlefields.

Critical to these women was reporting their impressions of this shocking world to their readers, never mind how male censors would alter their work before wiring them to newspapers. In no way could their male co-workers produce such photos and stories, and they knew it. It was their compassion. Thus the rub—

 

I woke with this dream feathering my imagination:

It is breakfast, in a large monastic refectory filled with hundreds of nuns. I sit among them, within a service set for four. A sense of uneasiness disturbs the rule of silence as a novice passes me the bowl of oranges. It looks like they’re frozen. I, too, grouse under my breath. Whatever their condition, I must take one; not to, would be an infringement against religious spirit and grounds for a penance. As I slice open my orange, I’m delighted by its juiciness and rich color. I lick my fingers, careful not to soil my cap.

 The dream plummeted me back to the noviceship and fifteen-minute breakfasts in the gray-painted basement-level refectory filled with rows of linoleum-covered tables and benches. When oranges were served, I stressed: peeling took time away from eating the cold cereal and buttered roll. If the superior rang the bell before I finished, I had to stand at my place and clean my plate while others rushed into their orders of day.

That “challenge” dogged me the five years I spent there.

But back to the dream’s message: its call to modify the regime of my liminal space that feels like formation when a novice—perhaps introduce more novel reading to sharpen my writerly skills or to sit outdoors in the sun.

Of equal importance is the dream’s reminder of how I used to internalize others’ speech, choices, and attitudes because of having low to no energy to do my own work. However, decades of dream work led me from that nightmare and into my individuation. For the most part, I no longer participate in the herd mentality, but when I do, it’s called a slip in CPA: indication of inauthentic living. In my present circumstances, I can ill afford many of them.

And even in the tightest of circumstances, Higher Power still gifts me with “juicy oranges.” Especially is this true in the gift of subjects for my daily blogs from which I continue learning. I’m grateful.

 

Available on Amazon

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