True Story of an American and His Heroic Family in "Avenue of Spies", by Alex Kershaw - Book Review

An American doctor and his family live out Hitler’s destruction during WWII in Paris. Writer Alex Kershaw, a journalist and historical author, has conducted a deep inquiry into a particular family’s involvement in the French Resistance in under German occupation.  Avenue of Spies is the completely absorbing result. 

American Sumner Jackson is a surgeon at the American Hospital in Paris and provided medical care during the first world war, so he is no stranger to combat wounds and care. His is married to Swiss-born Toquette, and they have a son, Phillip. They live on a very posh street in Paris - Foch Avenue. The street is an important setting, as many of the homes become the headquarters for Hitler’s SS, the Gestapo - spy hunters and gruesome torturers.

As Paris is overrun, Sumner continues his work at the hospital, but cannot ignore the obvious brutality the Germans are inflicting upon their enemies - and there are many. He begins to harbor allied soldiers and help get them to safety. Toquette experiences similar feelings, and heeds the request from the French resistance organization. Their flat on Foch Avenue becomes a message exchange hub and incredibly instrumental to the movement - all right under the noses of the SS only yards away. Phillip in the meantime, continues school and remains quiet, although also feeling the pull to help.

It’s an incredibly dangerous situation. French Jews are rounded up, along with dissenters; suspected spies are repeatedly tortured; children are medically experimented upon. The Sumner family and many others take great risks and often pay the price. Kershaw, referencing many sources, but primarily Phillip Sumner, has provided an incredible account of Paris during WWII and of this incredibly brave family. Towards the end of the war, we read about their truest test of bravery as the family is found out and thrown into concentration camps. 

Avenue of Spies provides plenty of detail, and is told in a suspenseful manner, similar to what you find in works of fiction. It’s a great work of history that we have a close glimpse into, and should all be thankful for families like the Sumners and writers like Kershaw who share it with us.

Published: 2015
Publisher: Crown Publishing

Vickie’s rating: 4 stars