Friday, August 12, 2016

Review: Marlene

 Summary: From the cabarets of Weimar Berlin to the dazzling film studios of Hollywood’s golden age, an enthralling novel of a glamorous legend Maria Magdalena Dietrich was born for a life on the stage. Raised in genteel poverty after the First World War, the willful teenager vows to become an actress and singer, trading her family’s proper, middle-class society for the free-spirited decadence of Weimar Berlin’s cabarets and drag balls. With her sultry beauty, smoky voice, 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—until she finds overnight success in her breakthrough film role as the cabaret singer Lola-Lola in The Blue Angel. 

For Marlene, neither fame nor marriage and motherhood can cure her wanderlust. As Hitler rises to power, she sets sail for America. Her image as an erotic temptress captures worldwide attention, and she becomes one of Hollywood’s top leading ladies, starring in one high-profile film—and affair—after another. Though Hitler tries to lure her back to Germany, Marlene chooses instead to become a citizen of her new nation, even as America enters the war against her fatherland.

But one day, she must return to Germany, escorted by General George Patton himself. In the devastated cities and the concentration camps, she comes face-to-face with how the evils of fascism transformed her country, and the family she thought she knew.

Lushly descriptive, as alluring as the lady herself, Marlene reveals the inner life of a woman of grit, glamour, and ambition who defied convention, seduced the world, and forged a path on her own terms. -- William Morrow

Just a few days ago, I shared with you how much our book club enjoyed the historical fiction novel  MARLENE by C.W. Gortner. I don't know if I have a heck of a lot more to say about this fictional account of Marlene Dietrich's life, but I'll try to give some more insight into this story.

MARLENE is a larger-than-life novel about a larger-than-life woman. I really knew next to nothing about her. In fact, I'm not even sure I could have listed a movie she starred in or even identified her from a photograph; however, I quickly realized she was a force to be reckoned with. She grew up in Germany after the First World War and was determined to become an actress and singer. And believe me when I say nothing would get in her way.

Despite her proper upbringing, Marlene started to frequent Weimar Berlin's cabarets where she often times dressed androgynously. She soon became a popular entertainer and eventually got her big break as the cabaret singer in The Blue Angel. She also had numerous love affairs with individuals of both sexes.

Marlene did marry and have one child; however, I think it's safe to say that this portrayal of her life didn't put her in the best light as a wife or a mother. She was determined to be famous, no matter the cost; and she even moved to Hollywood where she became one of the biggest stars in the world. She also continued to have numerous affairs with her leading men... and women!

However, Marlene always struggled with the relationship she had with her mother as well as the current events occurring in her home country. As Hitler rose to power, Marlene became more and more outspoken against him. When war broke out, she decided to return to Germany (at the side of General Patton) and perform with the USO. There, she was startled to see what was happening in the country she loved. She was also quite shocked to learn what had become of her family.

I really enjoyed MARLENE although I will admit that it took me a little while to become fully vested in the novel. (I was the only one at book club that felt this way so take it for what it's worth!) There was never a time that I didn't like the book. I just thought the second half of her life story was much more interesting that the first.

I have been a fan of Mr. Gortner's for years, and MARLENE definitely lived up to my expectations. I love that he is now writing historical fiction about some very strong and controversial women, and I sure hope he continues to do this -- hint, hint! His portrayal of Marlene was fascinating although I suspect she provided a pretty interesting start.

I have to say that I really disliked Marlene. I didn't care about the affairs she had or the way she stepped on some people to become famous; however, I was bothered by how she treated her daughter. She always provided for her financially, but it sure didn't seem to me that she cared all that much about her. Although as I'm reflecting back, maybe she did love her as much as she could.

What I really appreciated about this novel was how Mr. Gortner chose to portray her. He gave us enough information about her childhood and her relationship with her mother to explain a lot of her adult behavior. She definitely had some unresolved mommy issues and I do think understanding those issues helped make her a more sympathetic character... although I definitely wasn't feeling too sorry for her!

I also appreciated that Marlene was a woman who was, in many ways, ahead of her time. She was extremely strong and very smart about what she needed to do to be famous. There were times when I felt uncomfortable while reading this novel because I was so mad at her behavior. But what I realized is that I judged her differently because she was a woman and a mom. Had she been a man in the same situation, would I have blinked twice at her actions?

I think part of the reason that I enjoyed the ending of the novel more than the beginning was that I was able to see a more complex Marlene. I appreciated her outspokenness against Hitler as well as the concern for her family back in Germany. Her desire to support the troops as part of a USO tour was commendable to say the least. I couldn't believe how dangerous it was for her. She was on the front lines and she was so sick that she almost died!

MARLENE was a terrific pick for a book club discussion. There is a reading guide available with ten thought-provoking questions although my book club didn't even reference them. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family, mother/daughter relationships, sexuality, independence, success, fame, war, desperation, guilt, responsibility, and forgiveness.

Overall, MARLENE is a well-written, entertaining novel about a world famous star. Highly recommended to fans of historical fiction and readers who want to learn more about the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

This does sound fascinating. I bet my book club would love this!