Author: Jeanne Mackin
Publisher: NAL Trade
Type of book: 1900s-1950s, 1920s, France, New York, rape, mother/daughter relationships, perfume, love, jealousy, possessiveness, muse, art, surrealism, Lee Miller, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso
Year it was published: 2014
From Paris in the 1920s to London after the Blitz, two women find that a secret from their past reverberates through years of joy and sorrow....
As recovery from World War II begins, expat American Nora Tours travels from her home in southern France to London in search of her missing sixteen-year-old daughter. There, she unexpectedly meets up with an old acquaintance, famous model-turned-photographer Lee Miller. Neither has emerged from the war unscathed. Nora is racked with the fear that her efforts to survive under the Vichy regime may have cost her daughter’s life. Lee suffers from what she witnessed as a war correspondent photographing the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.
Nora and Lee knew each other in the heady days of late 1920s Paris, when Nora was giddy with love for her childhood sweetheart, Lee became the celebrated mistress of the artist Man Ray, and Lee’s magnetic beauty drew them all into the glamorous lives of famous artists and their wealthy patrons. But Lee fails to realize that her friendship with Nora is even older, that it goes back to their days as children in Poughkeepsie, New York, when a devastating trauma marked Lee forever. Will Nora’s reunion with Lee give them a chance to forgive past betrayals…and break years of silence to forge a meaningful connection as women who have shared the best and the worst that life can offer?
A novel of freedom and frailty, desire and daring, The Beautiful American portrays the extraordinary relationship between two passionate, unconventional women. For reviewers' attention: brief, very mild sex and violence
Readers Guide Included
The main characters include Nora Tours, a young woman from Poughkeepsie New York who used to be best friends with Lee Miller until the faithful day Lee turned seven years old and went through great tragedy. Nora is good at identifying scents with her nose, Lee Miller comes from an extremely wealthy family and she is best described as brave, fearless, impulsive and a bit selfish. She doesn't seem to regret her actions and is the type to live more for today than tomorrow. The men in the book, namely Jamie and Man Ray, seem to be a bit polar opposites: Man Ray is an original artist who is possessive and jealous, while Jamie is more of a copycat and lives in a wrong time. Dahlia is Nora's daughter and she is best described as possessive of her mother, older than her years and melancholy.
Its hard to pick up pieces and move on.
The story is written in first person narrative from Nora's point of view, and it briefly sketches the years from 1900s, when the time Nora and Elizabeth Miller knew each other as well as then jumping to 1920s and introducing the readers to life in Paris during that time and to the famous and well known people such as Coco Channel, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray and Elizabeth "Lee" Miller. What was even more remarkable is learning about perfumes and how they work. (I am only familiar with the store-bought generic brands, while in French perfumes there is much more than meets the eye.) I am not really happy that the author made a choice to skip over WWII, although I guess she felt there is little to cover it. Other than that, majority of the book focuses on the three major relationships, that of Nora and Jamie, and Nora and Lee Miller, and then Nora and her daughter Dahlia.
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Beyond reading F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, I knew little, if anything, about the glamorous and elite world of 1920s, and even less of Paris as well as France from 1930s to 1940s. I did have knowledge of WWII and the deeds done to Jews, and I knew little about WWI, but what about the years after WWI and before WWII, what was it like to live there? Reading this book helped me find out as well as experience the life hinted at in The Great Gatsby, the life of artists and heartbreaks and it also helped me learn why surrealism was so popular in that era and how fragile relationships are. It also taught me quite a bit about the forgotten names of Man Ray, Lee Miller and so forth. Although I'm sure that the characters of Nora, Dahlia, and few others are fictional, they remarkably felt real to me, and I have to say that the story answered a question I long harbored; there is no going back to the past, and its hard to restart from ground zero. Along with history, perfume and relationships, there is mention and hints of rape, although the rape happened more offstage.
This is for France Book Tours
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)