Title: The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite
Author: Beatrice Colin
As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous double murder, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves.
There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse. As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self.
Gripping and darkly seductive, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite showcases all the glitter and splendour of the brief heyday of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hollywood to its golden age. As it foreshadows the horrors of the Second World War, the novel asks what price is paid when identity becomes unfixed and the social order is upended.
Why did I pick up this book?
A guilty charity shop purchase.
This book had been staring at me from my bookshelf for some time. My bed faces my row of bookshelves and it has been tempting me to read it for some time.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Colin does a fantastic job of weaving fact with the fictional character of Lily Aphrodite, as she travels through the horrors of Berlin in World War I through to Nazi Germany. Most of the narrative is from Lily's perspective. However Colin effortlessly shifts between characters' thoughts and actions within the same scene. At times I had to check the back cover, just to double check I had not picked up a biography. Even now I have to prevent myself from looking up Lily's name on Google to find out more about her. Yes, I believe in characters a bit too much sometimes.
This is where Colin's research pays off. In an author's note, she references a great-aunt who worked for a German film studio in the 1920s and 1930s as the inspiration behind the book. Her great-aunt was rather scornful about how little Colin knew about Weimar Germany. It's safe to say that Colin has done her aunt proud, especially with this wonderful book.
Colin has a remarkable skill for telling a story in a set of paragraphs. The destiny of a minor, but rather important, character is dealt with in half a page and has sad echoes of the loss experienced by Germany in World War I. For another major character, their destiny is revealed towards the end of the book as they reminise whilst being interned in the Dachu concentration camp. Colin teases the reader by referring to the character's end before hurtling back to the story at hand.
Would I recommend this book?
Yes, yes and yes. This is a great book to curl up with on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I was drawn into the lives of Lily, Hanne, Stefan and Eva to name a few. Colin's strips away the layers of these characters until she reaches their very core. A wonderful story.