Monday, August 1, 2016

Reading Challenge 2016: Avenue of Spies

Week 28: A book about the second World War

Avenue of Spies: A True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family's Heroic Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Paris
by Alex Kershaw

Easy to Read

Given several reviews stated this book read like a thriller, I was mildly disappointed that it didn't. It is engaging, but there's very little emotional attachment to our real-life actors. Everything is presentably readbly factual. We don't feel the terror or the tension they must've felt living on the Paris Gestapo's street. Honestly, for most of the book, I would've had just as much emotionally invested if it had been about the Jackson's neighbor Dr. Kronos (Gestapo) and what he was trying to do during this time.

About halfway through the book things actually start moving and you have a few page turner chapters, but then it moves back to the easy to read - but no longer gripping - story.

I think the pacing could be better. We have vingettes that tie in to the story of the Jackson's, but they feel more like rabbit trails at times. Then we have focus on one member of the family back and forth between that and vignettes ... and I just wanted to know what was happening to the rest of the family!

This book is categorized as a biography. For a biography it is very engaging. Not boring or stuffy. The only problem is I'm not sure whose biography it is. If its the Jackson family's collective biography, we're missing too much information about the parent's early life, and if it's about their son, there is not enough focus on him. And, there is no information at all about the Jackson's religious persuasion, if they had one. Since religion is a major part of many people's lives I felt this was a terrific oversight. If they weren't religious, that should have also been made clear.

Questions about book categorization aside, the book is engaging enough to keep one reading, and it provides another look at the heroes fighting the Nazis from within. The Jackson's took on incredible risk, and they paid a price for that risk. Their commitment to their cause and each other is inspiring and heart breaking.

You get an excellent picture of the Parisian dilemma. What should your average Joe do? Cooperate with the change? Hold out? What was morally right? What was pragmatic? Could you successfully lead a double life? Were the resistance France's saviors? So much conflict and indecision and resentment.

After Berlin, Hitler consider Paris the Third Reich's best jewel. He planned to raze it if he couldn't hold it. Why didn't he?

Kershaw did a great job of weaving all of these elements together. Even though Paris, and not concentration camps, is the book's main setting, we still get a glimpse of the horrors other's have gone on about at great length.

All in all, while there are some pacing and trailing issues, this provides an excellent look at a different aspect of WWII than is usually addressed. I learned a lot. It is particularly nice to have a historical/biographical work be engaging and easy to read, instead of having to force one's way through the pages.

4 stars

This review appears as part of the Reading Challenge 2016. To see the other books in the challenge, click here.

I received a complimentary copy of this work from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

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