A HERO OF OUR OWN: The Story of Varian Fry

Sheila Isenberg, Author . Random $26.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-375-50221-7

The only American to be honored at Yad Vashem (Israel's Holocaust Memorial), Fry saved the lives of thousands of refugees from the Nazis. Isenberg, a professor of English at Marist College (Women Who Love Men Who Kill), delivers a moving, workmanlike account of Fry's heroics. During the late '30s Fry, a Harvard-educated editor, journalist and teacher who was radicalized in 1935 when he witnessed Nazi troopers beating Jews in Berlin, wrote New York Times articles concerning the worsening situation in Europe, but didn't manage to increase public awareness. Under the auspices of the Emergency Rescue Committee, an organization of leftist journalists, religious leaders and activists, Fry traveled to Marseilles in August 1940 with $3,000 and a list of refugees, primarily Jewish, stuck in Vichy France, without money or visas. Isenberg details how, under cover of a humanitarian relief center, Fry helped well-known figures such as Marc Chagall, André Breton, Hannah Arendt and many lesser-known people sneak across borders and escape. But his evident naïveté and combative personality sometimes worked against him: mistakenly assuming that most Americans would support his efforts, he alienated officials in the American Embassy who were unsympathetic to the plight of Jews and was forced to return home after a year. Fry's later years were marked by unhappiness in his personal life (he divorced his first wife and had a tempestuous relationship with the second) and destructive political disagreements with former colleagues. Isenberg ably renders prewar and war-time public ignorance and apathy in America and the extraordinary heroism of the sole volunteer for a dangerous rescue mission. Agent, Elizabeth Kaplan.(On sale Oct. 30)

Forecast:Fry was brought to public attention by a Showtime movie last April starring William Hurt. Fry remains somewhat elusive here, but he is a dynamic character and this vivid telling of his story, which the author will promote in New York, should sell well if it is widely reviewed.

Reviewed on: 07/16/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 388 pages - 978-0-595-34882-4
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