Villa Air-Bel: The Second World War, Escape and a House in France by Rosemary Sullivan - review by Allan Massie

Allan Massie

International Rescue

Villa Air-Bel: The Second World War, Escape and a House in France

By

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The subtitle suggests that this book is an odd hybrid: part history, part adventure story. So it is. It is the product of much devoted research and wide reading. The notes and bibliography run to some fifty pages. It seems probable that Rosemary Sullivan makes few statements for which she cannot supply evidence. And yet there is something unconvincing about Villa Air-Bel, and not only because the narrative veers about in a disconcerting fashion. It is partly that the style is breathless, inflated and self-consciously dramatic, partly that the author too often fails to put her story in context, and even seems not to understand that there is a context. A pity, because the story itself is interesting, important, and in her telling sometimes gripping.

Its hero is a young American called Varian Fry, a classical scholar who arrived in Marseilles in the summer of 1940 as the representative of the American Emergency Rescue Committee. This organisation had been set up in New York in order to save European artists, writers and intellectuals from the

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