Hedy Lamarr – Hollywood Star of the glorious 1940s with an unknown past. She grew up in Vienna where she had her first successful performances which attracted the attention of Fritz Mandl, an influential military arms manufacturer. Being Jewish wasn’t that big a problem at the time, but her father already felt that refusing a man like Mandl added to their religion wasn’t a good idea and thus, she first accepted the invitation to dinner and finally married him. But soon after their honeymoon, things changed drastically and the only role she was allowed to play was that of the silent wife who was nice to look at. What her husband did underestimate was her quick wit and her capacity of listening. And listen she did when he met the big players who prepared for a new world order with the help of her husband’s weapons. After her successful escape to the US, she used her intelligence and her knowledge for revenge: she developed a radio guidance system for torpedoes.
Admittedly, I had never heard of Hedy Lamarr before starting to read the novel. And even at the beginning I supposed the protagonist was simply a fictional character. When I became aware of the actual background, the woman’s life felt even more impressive than just the narration which I already liked a lot.
The actress is the narrator and centre of the novel and it does not take too long for the reader to figure out that she isn’t just the nice face and talented actress but a smart woman interested in everyday politics with a sharp and alert mind. She follows her father’s line of thoughts about Mandl’s advances and understands that she isn’t in a position to freely decide. The way she planned her escape shows not only how clever she can plot but also her courage. In America she is first reduced to the beautiful actress and it surely hit her hard when her invention was refused by the navy. If it rally was because she was a woman as the novel suggests or if there were other motives doesn’t really matter – she wasn’t recognised for what she was, but only for what people saw in her. Hopefully narratives of these kind of women help to change the mind of those who still believe that the looks go hand in hand with a simple mind.
When her mother is about to die, Joanna returns home in the US after years of living in London. What she was not prepared for are the memories that come back to her and that are closely linked to her childhood and teenage years: the plans to run away from home together with her brother, the times when her uncle approached and molested her, her way out of middle-class life, the beginning of her academic career and the realisation that she will never fit in and that she is simply not good enough to marry a son of a well-off family even though she excels at an Ivy-League University. A week of mourning and memories that not all are welcome to Jo and her family.
What I liked about the book was how easily one could sympathise and bond with Jo and thus follow her thoughts. The springing back and forward between the events around the mother’s death and funeral and her memories helped to keep the story lively and authentic; some words or people just trigger memories that you can neither prevent from coming to the surface nor control in the extent that they hit you.
The novel addresses several interesting topics that are worth pondering about: what keeps a family together and why do some women over and over again forgive all their husbands’ wrongdoings? Is there some kind of escape from your family, can you ever really cut the links that were established by birth? Coming from a certain class, working hard and doing everything right, what keeps you still from really belonging and being considered an adequate match? A lot of food for thought, especially when you share the protagonist’s background and visions of life. A quiet novel that is perfect for calmer days.
Two women kidnapped and forced to work in a brothel somewhere in Asia. A young Russian, trained to combat in hopeless situations and to defend her home country. A couple of superrich somewhere in the mountains in Switzerland with plans for the global economy. A man suddenly freed from a prison in the US. How do they relate? And how can those characters threaten the whole world and especially the global economy? A secret society has set their goal to take over the markets and to make masses of money. Different individuals as well as states try to hinder their doings, the result is a fierce fight for money and survival.
David L. Blond’s thriller The Phoenix Year is not just a hit and run story with the usual suspects. He goes deep into the international economic connections, shows how the markets work and how they can be manipulated and thus send us all to hell. At times, I found it a bit complicated to follow all those structures and the way single items and events are linked, but this made the novel outstanding from others. Apart from this highly demanding topic, we have all the ingredients of a classic thriller: conspiracy, US vs. Russia, hidden chalets in the Swiss Alps, people hold hostage, dangerous liberations, some unfortunately have to die etc. The story moves at a fast pace since we quickly shift from one country to another, from one line of action to the next. This keeps you reading on and on.
What I liked particularly was the role of women. Of course, we also have the one who is highly dependent on men and willing to subordinate, in professional as well as in sexual ways, but Blond also offers intelligent and courageous women who have found their place in their respective organisation and who can fight and assert themselves just as any man could. At the same time, they are not “wonderwoman”, but characters with flaws and weaknesses who appear quite likable and authentic. All in all, a demanding thriller with a clever plot.