Do you enjoy historical novels with characters based on real people? I do, but every time I read one I then feel compelled to turn to biography or memoir to see how close to reality the novel came. For example, after reading Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, I had to read Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast and Michael Reynolds’ Hemingway: The Paris Years. The part I was most anxious to learn about was whether Hadley really did take all of his manuscripts on a train and lose them. She did!
Recently I enjoyed Stewart O’Nan’s West of Sunset, a novel about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years in Hollywood, and his relationship with Sheilah Graham. We own a nonfiction book about that relationship by Graham’s son, called Intimate Lies, as well as several biographies of Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. Another outstanding recent novel featuring real people is A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott. It’s a behind the scenes portrayal of the filming of Gone With the Wind and prominently features its star, Clark Gable and his wife, Carole Lombard. To follow up, I listened to Fireball, a fascinating eaudiobook by Robert Matzen, who researched the plane crash in which Lombard died and its aftermath for Gable and others. It’s available from both Overdrive and Hoopla.
Then there’s Liza Klaussmann’s new novel, Villa America, based on the lives of Sara and Gerald Murphy, the golden couple who were at the center of the American ex-patriot literary community in Paris and on the Riviera in the 1920’s and 30’s. Their circle included Hemingway, Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Pablo Picasso, poet Archibald MacLeish, and playwright Philip Barry, along with their assorted significant others. After being immersed in their world as depicted by Klaussmann, I needed to dive into a nonfiction book on the Murphys. What a treat it was to read Living Well Is the Best Revenge by Calvin Tomkins, who was their neighbor after they moved back to the U. S. Tomkins coaxed recollections from them that inspired some of the most vivid scenes in Klaussmann’s novel. But my favorite feature of Tomkins’ book is the illustrations, including color reproductions of Gerald Murphy’s remarkable paintings. If you read Villa America, you will surely want to see the paintings.
Next on my list? Paula McLain’s new novel, Circling the Sun, fictionalizes the life of Kenyan horse trainer and aviator Beryl Markham, who was in a love triangle with Karen Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatton, the couple portrayed so memorably by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in the movie Out of Africa. The novel will undoubtedly inspire me to read Markham’s memoir, West With the Night. And then…
Jane Trump, firstname.lastname@example.org