Wednesday, February 1, 2017

REVIEW: Marlene by C. W. Gortner

Marlene
by C. W. Gortner

Publisher: William Morrow
Page Count: 432
Release Date: May 24, 2016
Format: Hardcover

How got: local library

First attention getter: subject matter

Synopsis:

From GoodReads:

A lush, dramatic biographical novel of one of the most glamorous and alluring legends of Hollywood’s golden age, Marlene Dietrich, from the gender-bending cabarets of Weimar Berlin to the lush film studios of Hollywood—a sweeping story of passion, glamour, ambition, art, and war from the author of Mademoiselle Chanel.

Raised in genteel poverty after the first World War, Maria Magdalena Dietrich dreams of a life on the stage. When a budding career as a violinist is cut short, the willful teenager vows to become a singer, trading her family’s proper, middle class society for the free-spirited, louche world of Weimar Berlin’s cabarets and drag balls. With her sultry beauty, smoky voice, seductive silk cocktail dresses, and androgynous tailored suits, Marlene performs to packed houses, and becomes entangled in a series of stormy love affairs that push the boundaries of social convention.

For the beautiful, desirous Lili Marlene, neither fame nor marriage and motherhood can cure her wanderlust. As Hitler and the Nazis rise to power, she sets sail for America. Rivaling the success of another European import, Greta Garbo, Marlene quickly becomes one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, starring with legends such as Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Cary Grant. Desperate for her return, Hitler tries to lure her with dazzling promises. Marlene instead chooses to become an American citizen, and after her new nation is forced into World War II, tours with the USO, performing for thousands of Allied troops in Europe and Africa.

But one day she will return to Germany. Escorted by General George Patton himself, Marlene is heartbroken by the war’s devastation and the evil legacy of the Third Reich that has transformed her homeland and the family she loved.

An enthralling and insightful account of this extraordinary legend, Marlene reveals the inner life of a woman of grit, glamour, and ambition who defied convention, seduced the world, and forged her own path on her own terms.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

Ah Gortner... He's one of those authors that you know is going to be good when reading his works. He knows how to create dramatic characters in an equally dramatic setting to create a story that stands out. This book is no different!

Before starting this work, the most I knew about Marlene Dietrich was that she was a famous black and white movie actress from the World War II era and that she was an ardent anti-Nazi. What the author has done has flesh her out so completely that I felt I was meeting someone completely new. He gives her such a rich background and shows us as she develops into the personality history comes to know, that the reader can't help but be held fixated by.

I love how the author showed us so many aspects of her background. World War I, acting school, her many affairs, and her nightlife in decadent 1920s Berlin all show us the complex character that can't be fit in any one character mold. She's one of those personalities that defies convention and compartmentalization.

Her best admirable aspect, though, that the author showed was Marlene’s brash disregard for how the world saw her. She didn't let society, family, lovers, or the movie industry dictate who she was or how she thought. Any woman who has the balls to show even a small part of her true self to the world is to be admired.

Then of course, there is the author’s usual talent at historical detail. Not only is history explored and used to develop Marlene; equal measure is given to history itself. The author gives us an intimate and intricate look at a society on the brink. The interwar years in Germany were a time of great change, with political organizations popping into and out of office with disturbing regularity. Berlin provides an incredible backdrop for the story of both Marlene and of the development of Germany into the fascist state we knew it became. It was fascinating to see how Berlin developed from decadent night clubs where porn shows were the norm to a city full of jack boots and censorship. Seeing Germany's descent into madness through Marlene’s eyes contributed to the overall historical tone of the story as well as to her own growth and journey.

Needless to say, even though the year is yet young, I think I'm safe to say this book is among my best of 2017. The author has created a glorious story of a country in flux, torn between so many mirrors of itself that no one knows the true Germany. Along with that tale, we get a hell of a woman who is full of grit, courage, and enough ambition to topple Hollywood. Marlene is one of those personalities that you can't help but love and admire. It's safe to say that I will be looking for more of this author’s work, if this book is any indicator of his level as a writer.

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