Saturday, August 16, 2008
The Glimmer Palace, By Beatrice Colin
The Glimmer Palace
By Beatrice Colin
Lilly Nelly Aphrodite is an orphan, never knowing a parents’ love. What a beautiful name, not dull, not common, suitable for a rising star. Just her name alone made me want to read on. She lives in a Catholic orphanage, and one day befriends a girl named Hanne who arrives with three brothers in tow. Where Hanne is adventurous, Lilly is not, and each night after midnight, Lilly listens in the quiet as a pin drop night, as her friend sneaks over the wall. Hanne goes to town to make money selling flowers. Lilly, eagerly wants love, friendship and acceptance and looks to Sister August and Hanne give her it.
Knowing it is wrong to jump over the wall with Hanne, she is curious. She also fears that she may lose Hanne as a friend. This makes it easy for Lilly to become the follower. Lilly and Hanne become a duo and set out to the tingle tangle. A tingle-tangle, is a bar where working girls often hand out postcards of themselves while men drank and watched tawdry shows. Hanne introduces Lilly to the seedier side of Berlin’s cabaret lifestyle that existed in the early 1900s. Think of the famous Cabaret musical and the image will be clearer. Hanne aspires to become a famous performer. Ironically, it is Lilly who during one of Hanne’s auditions, is discovered and the rest as they say is history.
Conflicts and parallel stories abound in this novel. Without giving away too much, Lilly becomes rich and rises above her earlier impoverished beginnings, while Hanne, sinks deeply into despair and poverty. The German film industry is highly lucrative and successful while millions of people are starving and being killed in the country.
Lilly becomes so famous she is asked to work for MGM in America. Enthusiasm is quickly suppressed when the papers label her a Nazi. Also at this time the transition from silent movies to talkies made voice quality essential. There was question whether Lilly could hold her own in a talking film. Because of these two obstacles, when Hitler, sends word thru Joseph Goebbels asking Lilly to come back to Germany to make films, her decision is monumental.
The German film industry was very important during this interlude between wars. According to Colin who writes that her inspiration for the story came from her great aunt Nina, who was appalled that she knew nothing about the importance of the film industry in Germany during that time. Her aunt worked in the film business in the press office and was able to give her first hand information about the rise and demise of this once thriving industry.
Chapters begin with real historical images and a short text selection that adds historical credibility to the story. This also makes the book read more like nonfiction history than historical fiction. I believed in the characters created by Colin because they were not perfect. They had flaws and made mistakes and moved on. I had to keep reminding myself it was a novel, fiction and reality are marbleized. Love is a central theme in the book as the characters are all trying to find and hold on to love. These characters will make you love this book. The Glimmer Palace presents a passionate peak at Berlin’s people as they lived during the long period leading up to the Holocaust.