BOOK REVIEW: Marlene by C. W. Gortner

The Blurb (Goodreads):

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 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, she tours with the USO, performing for thousands of Allied troops in Europe and Africa.

But one day she returns 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:

Marlene by C.W. Gortner is the fascinating story of Marlene Dietrich, the German actor who became a Hollywood star & then almost died whilst entertaining US soldiers during World War II. I came to this book because I love Gornter’s biographical fiction, rather than because of any interest in Marlene herself, but I soon found myself fascinated by her character and life, and watching videos of her performing online. 

Despite studying hard to fulfill her mother’s dream that she become a concert violinist, Maria Magdalena Dietrich prefers to sing and playact and mimic others for comic effect. Her beauty and sensuality lead her into the free-spirited world of Berlin’s nightclubs and cabarets, where the atmosphere of gender play and free love appeal to her independent spirit. She has love affairs with both men and women and works hard to establish a career for herself in the performing arts. Gradually she finds her way into film, and is chosen to play the role of Lola-Lola, a cabaret singer and whore, in the 1930 movie ‘The Blue Angel’. Her world-weary beauty and smoke-roughened voice made her a star, and it was not long before she set her sights on Hollywood, where she causes scandal with her androgynous look and unconventional lifestyle. 

Marlene Dietrich was truly an intriguing woman, & Gortner brings her to vivid, dazzling life. So good!

You might also like to read The Huntress by Kate Quinn:

BOOK REVIEW: The Huntress by Kate Quinn

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Kate Forsyth
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