The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin
There was a lot happening in this novel - the main character Lilly was born right before midnight at the turn of the century, the daughter of a Bavarian baron and his mistress from the cabaret. Orphaned before she is two, Lilly is first adopted and then left at an orphanage when she proves to be too headstrong a child. After she has been there a few years, Hanne Schmidt comes into the orphanage as well and she will be the one constant friend and character in Lilly's life from then on. Hanne is already 12 and has a tough life behind her, so she is much more wise in the ways of the world and men than Lilly who has been rather sheltered, and her cynicism and practicality remain constant throughout the novel.
While Hanne leaves the orphanage and works at a cabaret among other places, Lilly starts as a maid. The novel chronicles Lilly and Hanne's hardships during World War I and the '20s in Germany when inflation was wild. Eventually it sees Lilly break into the movie business, much of this due to a Russian director who discovers her.
Even as Lilly starts to become famous (and there is never any question that she will become famous since the novel refers to her later fame from the very beginning, quoting interviews and articles) the reader cannot enjoy this too much. Alongside Lilly's rise, the novel also chronicles the beginnings of the Nazi party and their increasing influence. In that way, it reminded me of the musical Cabaret, especially considering the setting - 1920s Berlin, entertainment industry. I loved Cabaret because it started out as light hearted musical about extreme decadence that ended with the Nazis shutting down the club and ending the party - it takes a very dark turn. Similarly, the Nazis loom here, threatening whatever happiness Lilly might finally find.
Naturally, there is a tragic love story. Lilly and the Russian director fall in love but the director has made a previous promise he can't break which ends their relationship much too soon. By the time they finally do have a chance to reconnect, it looks as if it might be too late. For some reason, most of my favorite movies have epic, tragic love stories and exactly this is the kind that is always the most aggravating or heartwrenching - the couple that is basically perfect for each other but than ends up wasting so much of their time apart that they only get to be happy for a very short period of time. Those tend to be the ones that get to me most. Maybe it's because I don't want to miss out on things until it's almost too late.
Overall, it was fun and colorful but the ending was definitely a downer.