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.
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An interesting read for fans of historical fiction.
3.5 stars - rounded
An interesting concept for an historical story, using a fictional character to inform and build on the story of a true person. Based on the life of Lee Miller (expat model and photographer) and her childhood friend Nora. Through a traumatic event, these two very dissimilar women were separated and went on to lives of very different trajectories.
Lee Miller was to become the ‘face’ of the surrealist movement in Paris, and the first female war correspondent / photographer in WWII. As one might expect, Lee is the sour to the very sweet, almost spineless Nora, a matter of life circumstances as Lee was the rich and pampered daughter while Nora was simply the gardener’s child. These two were born and lived their early lives in Poughkeepsie, and played together as children. When they are separated, Lee dashes off to Europe to make a name for herself, and Nora is left behind.
Fast forward to Nora’s searching for her daughter, also in France, but not heard from since just after Grasse. Nora decides that she will trace her daughter’s footsteps through Europe in the hopes of finding her. What happens is that she re-encounters Lee, now more famed and far different from the young girl she knew.
Both women’s lives to this point are presented in flashbacks, Nora’s story is a touch more compelling, as she is far more concerned with those around her. Lee’s stories are far more a “who’s who” with an eye to the gains she herself made with each new experience and connection. Lee is not a particularly likeable character: although certainly gifted and driven her personality is just not pleasant. Nora is more likable, but far too often I wished for her to grow some spine and confront Lee about her bad behavior, her inappropriate comments and even her callous disregard of everyone she encounters.
Sadly, the “beautiful American” is far less so at the end of this book – at a distance and looking at the overall achievements she is wonderfully compelling. Upon closer examination she is far less compelling or attractive. MacKin does bring a sense of the hardships and flavor of the times for both characters, and gives plenty of room for thought. An interesting read for fans of historical fiction.
I received a Paperback copy of the title from the publisher for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.