Delayed Rays of a Star, by Amanda Lee Koe, 2019

Title: Delayed Rays of a Star

Author: Amanda Lee Koe

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Publishing date: July 9, 2019

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format: Paperback

Language: English

No. of pages: 389

Synopsis:

A dazzling novel following the lives of three groundbreaking women–Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, and Leni Riefenstahl–cinema legends who lit up the twentieth century

At a chance encounter at a Berlin soirée in 1928, the photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captures three very different women together in one frame: up-and-coming German actress Marlene Dietrich, who would wend her way into Hollywood as one of its lasting icons; Anna May Wong, the world’s first Chinese American star, playing for bit parts while dreaming of breaking away from her father’s modest laundry; and Leni Riefenstahl, whose work as a director would first make her famous–then, infamous.

From this curious point of intersection, Delayed Rays of a Star lets loose the trajectories of these women’s lives. From Weimar Berlin to LA’s Chinatown, from a seaside resort in East Germany to a luxury apartment on the Champs-Élysées, the different settings they inhabit are as richly textured as the roles they play: siren, muse, predator, or lover, each one a carefully calibrated performance. And in the orbit of each star live secondary players–a Chinese immigrant housemaid, a German soldier on leave from North Africa, a pompous Hollywood director–whose voices and viewpoints reveal the legacy each woman left in her own time, as well as in ours.
Amanda Lee Koe’s playful, wry prose guides the reader dexterously around murky questions of ego, persona, complicity, desire, and difference. Intimate and raw, Delayed Rays of a Star is a visceral depiction of womanhood–its particular hungers, its calculations, and its eventual betrayals–and announces a bold new literary voice. 

My review:

I received a review copy from the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Delayed Rays of a Star is an exhilarating read delving into history and the lives of three women with an epic intensity. Spanning from the 1920s to the early 2000s, this novel tells a fictional story of real life actresses – Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, and Leni Riefenstahl. Delayed Rays of a Star has been inspired from a photograph of these 3 women, that was clicked at a soiree in 1928 Berlin. Although these three women are the protagonists, you could say, there are a few more secondary characters in the book –  Marlene’s caretaker, the lighting staff on Leni’s team, the gay German soldier etc.

For the most part, this seemingly simple and ambiguous novel reads quite fluidly. There are so many issues that are discussed here. For instance, there is sexism – the most prevalent one, I think. As women, the three protagonists had to go through a lot to be where they are. It is in Leni’s story where it is the most prominent I think. As one of the three protagonists who gets a whole section for her own voice, Leni is a character who has often been judged and misunderstood often.

There is also racism – and no one perhaps experiences this more than Anna May. In all her movies, she is never cast as the lead, always being passed over to make way for white actresses – because she is ‘too’ Chinese.

Another theme is that of sexuality. Marlene was a woman who was famous in her heydays. It is unfathomable to understand how she slept with both men and women and got away with it. the instance in the book where Anna and Marlene are in the washroom, and the aftermath, is a clear indication that Marlene was very comfortable in her own skin. Nonetheless, it is impossible to imagine how she got away with it during those times.

Delayed Rays of a Star is also a very intense read if you truly understand the subtle themes spoken of, here. Divided into three main sections, followed by three sub-divisions each, where each section follows one of the three main characters. The character arcs of these women are commendable. However, I was disappointed that Leni was not very involved with the other two after the party. I had hoped to see more of an interrelationship among the 3 women, apart from their common instances in life.

The question of politics really comes into play with Leni. I did some research and she truly was a director of Nazi propaganda films. As such, a lot of her being is kind of complicated – how can you separate the art from politics and if it should or should not be done; if it was necessary to separate the artist’s political ideologies from his art.

Amanda Le Koe has truly written a definitive work on women’s lives and including these real life characters along with a few of their real life actions and beliefs, was a great culmination in Delayed Rays of a Star. Considering that this is her debut novel, I can only imagine the pressure that lies on her shoulders now for any future works.

Verdict:

I rate this book a 4/5 stars!

About the author:

Born in Singapore and currently based in New York, Amanda Lee Koe is the youngest winner of the Singapore Literature Prize for her first short story collection Ministry of Moral Panic (Epigram Books, 2013), which was also shortlisted for the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s Internationaler Literaturpreis, and the Frankfurt Book Fair’s LiBeraturpreis.

The working manuscript for her first novel, Delayed Rays of a Star , won the Henfield prize, awarded to the best work of fiction by a graduating MFA candidate at Columbia University’s Writing Program; the book is forthcoming from Nan A. Talese/Doubleday (U.S.) and Bloomsbury (U.K.) in summer 2019. 

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .

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