I recently finished the historical fiction ‘A Postmistress from Paris’, written by Meg Waite Clayton. The novel takes inspiration from the remarkable true actions of Chicago heiress Mary Jayne Gold who, along with American journalist Varian Fry, organized an operation to smuggle artists and intellectuals out of France during World War Two. The book is structured around the perspectives of the protagonist Naneé, who meets Eduardo Moss, a Jewish German photographer, and his daughter Loki. A recurring theme throughout the novel is art, which acts as a grounding tool the prisoners embrace to stay alive and bring light into their worlds. Clayton submerses the reader in a haunting story where art is a beacon of hope in a time of terror for these artists. As described in the following quote, voiced by Eduardo Moss, he recalls the importance of what being an artist truly means.
“It was something that was hard to see until you had some measure of success, but it wasn’t success that made one an artist. One was an artist. One was successful or not at selling work, but the sale of art no more made a man an artist than it made him a man. An artist simply was (pg.122)”
This quote portrays the deeper sense of what art was and is. During WWII, artwork became a way to document the atrocities and preserve memories to display the truth to the public, of the events that were being concealed. As this was one of the reasons artists were targeted by the Nazis, in an attempt to control and punish them. The quote expresses the relation to the title of an ‘artist’, not based on whether one is successful or not, but simply doing it out of passion. The novel demonstrates how art breathes new life into each character during harsh thoughts and the inevitable tragedy they were experiencing. By acting as an outlet of expression, the book shares how people can connect through art, no matter their success, relating to others and invoking a sense of confidence in themselves through their pieces. In the context of the novel, Eduardo voices how his photography binds him to another, memorializing his own moments and memories for eternity.