Source: This book was given to me by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: 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 1920’s 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?
A novel of freedom and frailty, desire and daring, The Beautiful American portrays the extraordinary relationship between two passionate, unconventional woman.
My Review: The Beautiful American takes place in Paris in the 1920s and after World War II in London. Nora, an American expat, is searching for her missing daughter that leads her to London. In the doorway of Harrods’ perfume hall, she runs into her old friend, Lee Miller. This coincidental meeting reopens old wounds. Soon Nora finds herself coming to terms with her past. Little does she know that Lee too has not come out unscathed. She also suffers from what she witnessed in the war. Can the two come back together again and renew their friendship after what had happened in the past?
I found the characters to be unlikable. I really could not get into them. I found myself repulsed by their actions. Nora came across to me as naive. She is the narrator, and I had trouble getting into the tone of her voice. Her tone is very childish and for half of the novel, she is mostly gushing over her love and that distracted me from the novel. I also could not get into Lee Miller. I found her to be so selfish and spoiled that I really wanted her gone. I thought that she would get better, but at the end I felt like I really did not know her. I feel that the story should have been narrated by Lee or in the third person.
Overall, this story is about friendship, choices, and family. The overall message of the book is to forgive those who have hurt you. For even though Lee betrayed her, Norah eventually forgave her. I also did not really like the pacing of the novel. I really found the first half, where it is set in the 1920s, to be slow. I was more interested in the present storyline than their past. This is because of gushing how much in love she is. I like the part of her searching for her missing daughter, and I found the mother-daughter relationship to be touching. There are a lot of sad and depressing scenes in this book that is not for the faint of heart. Still, I felt that this novel was well-researched and the setting came alive. I recommend this story to anyone interested in The Gilded Age, the aftermath of WWII, and Lee Miller.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
PRAISE“Will transport you to expat Paris.” – Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist
“A brilliant, beautifully written literary masterpiece” – Sandra Dallas, author of Fallen Women
“Leaves its essence of love, loss, regret and hope long after the novel concludes.” – Erika Robuck, author of Fallen Beauty
“Achingly beautiful and utterly mesmerizing…her vividly drawn characters…come heartbreakingly alive in their obsessions, tragedies and triumphs” – Jennifer Robson, author of Somewhere in France
“From Poughkeepsie to Paris, from the razzmatazz of the twenties to the turmoil of World War Two and the perfume factories of Grasse, Mackin draws you into the world of expatriate artists and photographers and tells a story of love, betrayal, survival and friendship…an engaging and unforgettable novel” – Renee Rosen, author Doll Face
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeanne Mackin’s novel, The Beautiful American (New American Library), based on the life of photographer and war correspondent Lee Miller, received the 2014 CNY award for fiction. Her other novels include A Lady of Good Family, about gilded age personality Beatrix Farrand, The Sweet By and By, about nineteenth century spiritualist Maggie Fox, Dreams of Empire set in Napoleonic Egypt, The Queen’s War, about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and The Frenchwoman, set in revolutionary France and the Pennsylvania wilderness.
Jeanne Mackin is also the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers (Cornell University publications) and co-editor of The Book of Love (W.W. Norton.) She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and a keynote speaker for The Dickens Fellowship. Her work in journalism won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, in Washington, D.C. She has taught or conducted workshops in Pennsylvania, Hawaii and at Goddard College in Vermont.
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