Firstly I wish to thank Ruth Richardson of Transworld Publishers for inviting me to read and review this book.
ABOUT THE BOOK
From the bestselling author of The Blasphemer, shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and a Richard & Judy Bookclub Pick
‘A masterly exploration of conflicting loyalties set against the 1936 Olympic Games. Sharply characterised, richly atmospheric and completely engrossing.’ JOHN PRESTON, author of THE DIG
It is the early 1930s, and Europe is holding its breath. As Hitler’s grip on power tightens, preparations are being made for the Berlin Olympics. Leni Riefenstahl is the pioneering, sexually-liberated star film-maker of the Third Reich. She has been chosen by Hitler to capture the Olympics on celluloid but is about to find that even his closest friends have much to fear. Kim Newlands is the English athlete ‘sponsored’ by the Blackshirts and devoted to his mercurial, socialite girlfriend Connie. He is driven by a desire to win an Olympic gold but to do that he must first pretend to be someone he is not. Alun Pryce is the Welsh communist sent to infiltrate the Blackshirts. When he befriends Kim and Connie, his belief that the end justifies the means will be tested to the core.
Through her camera lens and memoirs, Leni is able to manipulate the truth about what happens when their fates collide at the Olympics. But while some scenes from her life end up on the cutting room floor, this does not mean they are lost forever…
‘A novel rich in historical detail, but wearing its research lightly, and the story is told in a French Lieutenant’s Woman kind of way, veering from the present to the past with superb flair.’ IRISH INDEPENDENT
Although Leni Riefenstahl had established herself as a successful actress in Germany, when she moved to the other side of the camera she found her greatest fame and the eye of Der Führer, Adolf Hitler. Riefenstahl had been commissioned to make a film of Hitler, ‘Triumph of the Will’ released in 1935 that was a great success in promoting him as a worthy world leader.
In 1936 Berlin was to host the Olympic games, and Riefenstahl was to capture it on film. Rumours were already circulating of an affair between Hitler and her, something she denied but played on too. The thing that made her different from other filmmakers of the time were the unusual angles she filmed from, which could put a whole new light on a subject.
The story starts with a young woman, Sigrun Meier, arriving at the property where Riefenstahl had died in 2005. Meier had on numerous occasions asked to speak with her but had been refused. But she had left it in her will that Meier will be allowed to view footage of films that no one else had seen. There are numerous offcuts of film, showing the 1936 games containing footage of an unknown young English man.
There is a web of stories all taking place at once, all connected by the actions and choices they make. It all felt natural and real to me, with historical names and stories blending with fiction with precision. Riefenstahl was quite a character, a bit of a tease, very talented and full of confidence, but there is a place in this story that took my breath and brought her back to look at her mortality up close.
A brilliant top story, it flows beautifully with love, hopes, desires and propaganda of the time. Fascinating, engaging and terrifying.
I wish to thank Net Galley and the publisher for an e-copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nigel Farndale is the bestselling author of The Blasphemer, which was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award. His previous books include Haw-Haw: The Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He lives on the Hampshire-Sussex border with his wife and their children. His new novel, The Dictator’s Muse, is set in the 1930s.