Delayed Rays of a Star

Amanda Lee Koe. Doubleday/Talese, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-385-54434-4
Koe’s ambitious and well-researched debut novel (after the story collection Ministry of Moral Panic) successfully melds historical fact with expansive and generous storytelling. Inspired by a 1928 photograph that captured Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, and Leni Riefenstahl posing for Alfred Eisenstaedt at a Berlin party, the overlapping narratives start with that moment and then spiral outwards, exploring the decades that follow in each woman’s life. Dietrich, having retreated from the spotlight and become a recluse in her old age, hopes she’s found one final admirer. The American-born Wong, whose prospects for leading lady roles were limited by antimiscegenation laws, later grapples with accusations that her career perpetuated Asian stereotypes. And Riefenstahl defends her political and artistic choices, notably Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will, which she produced and directed. The book’s most emotionally resonant sections often come from the stories of tangential characters—an electrician in Riefenstahl’s crew, for example, or the elderly Dietrich’s young Chinese housekeeper, Bébé. Very occasionally, the inclusion of the famous characters’ biographies reads like a Wikipedia entry; more often, however, the details of each woman’s life and work are fully integrated into an exploration of her inner life. Throughout, their stories contend with the notion of authenticity in life and art—of how performers define themselves in the public sphere and behind closed doors. Readers will find much to ponder in these vivid, fictionalized deep dives into three women who changed cinema. (July)
Reviewed on : 05/10/2019
Release date: 07/09/2019
Genre: Fiction
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