Pam Jenoff is the author of several novels, including CODE NAME SAPPHIRE (to be released Feb 2023), NYT bestsellers THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR, THE LOST GIRLS OF PARIS, THE ORPHAN’S TALE and THE DIPLOMAT’S WIFE, as well as THE KOMMANDANT’S GIRL, which received widespread acclaim, earned her a nomination for the Quill Awards and became an international bestseller. She previously served as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department in Europe, as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army at the Pentagon and as a practicing attorney at a large firm and in-house.
Q How did you get the idea for the story?
Pam: I don’t write real peoples’ stories, instead I look for history to build a world around. I am also looking for what I call the “gasp.” If I find a story so untold, that after a quarter century of working with the war, makes me gasp, I hope I’m onto something about which readers will feel the same way. I found out about a Nazi train headed from Belgium to Auschwitz with a group of young people intent on stopping it. They wanted to break into it and free the people inside. There is a wonderful non-fiction book titled The Twentieth Train by Marion Schreiber that has the real-life data. I was so amazed by this. I wondered why more people had not done this.
Q Is this a book about women and truth?
Pam: It is a story of growth. I like writing about women in history. With the war women are challenged, tested, and it is exciting to see their response.
Q How would you describe Micheline, Lily, and Hannah?
Pam: Hannah and Lily are cousins who have not remained in touch. I wanted to show how their lives went in different directions, but now they are coming back together. Lily is trying to stay uninvolved to keep her family safe. Hannah has been through the worst of circumstances and must re-learn how to trust and depend on others. Micheline is the outlier, a character inspired by the real woman who ran one of escape lines.
Q Would you say each woman had their individual personalities?
Pam: Hannah is solitary, desperate, vulnerable, artistic, independent, brave, headstrong, guilt-ridden, and stubborn.
Lily is calm, likes order, does not like confrontation, sheltered, naïve, kind, and thoughtful.
Micheline: Passionate, a leader, strong, detailed, a planner, blunt, protective, restless, fierce, and combative.
Q Later in the story Hannah became very impulsive. Can you tell us more?
Pam: She was put in some impossible circumstances and tried to make the best choices possible., which is not always the right choice. She was desperate and took some missteps, a lapse in judgement. Remember my characters are complicated and flawed.
Q How would you describe Matteo?
Pam: He is obviously the love interest on more than one level, part of a love triangle. He plays a role in various peoples’ lives. He is wounded, smart, gullible, charming, and witty.
Q What is real in the story?
Pam: The ship MS Brittany was based on the MS Saint Louis, but since I changed the dates, I also changed the name. The Sapphire Line was inspired by the Comet Line, predominately rescuing the allied airmen. They existed through information, communication, and money, depending on the community and locals. It was run for some time by a woman. Unfortunately, there were countless betrayals. Breendonk prison had more political prisoners and Mechelen prison was more of a transit camp. It is unclear which one Lily would have been in.
Q How would describe the story’s ending?
Pam: Plausible yet surprising. I am writing about the War, so there will be some endings that were happy, many were not, and sometimes no one knew what happened to someone.
Q What’s next?
Pam: It involves a story during the war, a story after the war, with a mysterious object that connects them both. It will be released in early 2025.
Code Name Sapphire by Pam Jenoff is the latest of her historical novels. The plot begins in 1942 and revolves around three women, each with a distinctly different personality. The story has love, resilience, complicated family relationships, betrayal, and secrets.
The story begins with the Nazis attacking a couple in Germany. Hannah Martel drew satiric anti-Nazi cartoons and her fiancé, Isaac, printed them in his underground Berlin newspaper. Attacked brutally, Isaac dies in Hannah’s hands and begs her to escape. Knowing it is a matter of time until she will be found, Hannah flees for Havana on a ship. As with the MS Saint-Louis the German refugees are not allowed to disembark on Cuba’s shores and the ship is sent back to Europe. Hannah is saved by her cousin Lily because Belgium has a law that accepts refugees if they have a local relative. Lily welcomes her cousin and now lives with the family. But Hannah knows it is a matter of time until her German resistance past catches up with her, so she agrees to work with the Belgian underground in exchange for getting help to travel to England or America.
Readers realize that the three women brought together have their own strengths and weaknesses. Micheline is head of the Sapphire Line resistance network that mainly rescues downed allied pilots and helps them to escape. Lily is reluctant to do anything that might change the status quo of her comfortable life. Each of these women come together as they try to survive the Nazi occupation.
This story has a lot of suspense and readers will try to understand some of the decisions made that at times seems like a betrayal. The ending twist might throw people for a loop.