Sometimes I wonder if I was alive during World War II. It’s a time that fascinates me and feels familiar. It’s a time of horrific tragedy and a time of bravery. It’s also a time when a lot of young Americans relocated to Paris to follow their artistic dreams. They were called expats.
The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin is about Nora Tours, a young woman from Poughkeepsie, NY who has fallen in love with the high school quarterback who has a love of photography. After high school the couple heads to New York so Jamie can try and get a showing in a gallery. After failing, they head to London for the same purpose. After failing there, they head to Paris where it should be easy because that’s where true art is happening.
After trying and being unsuccessful at securing a gallery showing in Paris, Nora and Jamie are almost broke and ready to head back to Poughkeepsie when Nora runs into Lee Miller, a childhood playmate who is now an international model and aspiring photographer. Nora and Jamie get sucked into Lee’s life and meet very interesting people like Picasso.
The book starts out with Nora searching for her 16-year-old daughter Dahlia who has disappeared and thinks Dahlia is retracing her and Jamie’s path from London to Paris and could possibly be in London. This is where she runs into Lee outside of Harrod’s after not seeing each other for almost 17 years. Lee invites Nora to spend the weekend at her country farm where Picasso will also be a guest. The book goes back and forth between Lee and Nora’s childhood and their weekend visit on the farm. Then it brings us to Paris and France where the majority of the book is centered.
This is a beautifully written book that takes the reader to a time when Europe is on the verge of World War II to just after the war. I found Nora more of a backseat character as in the fact she isn’t a strong personality. She kind of just goes along for the ride as Lee is an out there personality who doesn’t care about other people’s feelings, she just live life the way she wants to live. Once Nora leaves Paris, her character gets a little stronger. It’s nice to see her evolve a little bit. There are some parallels between Lee and Dahlia. I don’t like to give too much away so I will say, this book will pull you into Paris and into the lives of these people.
Here is the description from the back of the book: As recovery from World War II begins, expat American Nora Tours travels from her home in southern France to London in search of her missing sixteen-year-old daughter. There, she unexpectedly meets up with an old acquaintance, famous model-turned-photographer Lee Miller. Neither has emerged from the war unscathed. Nora is racked with the fear that her efforts to survive under the Vichy regime may have cost her daughter’s life. Lee suffers from what she witnessed as a war correspondent photographing the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.
Nora and Lee knew each other in the heady days of late 1920s Paris, when Nora was giddy with love for her childhood sweetheart, Lee became the celebrated mistress of the artist Man Ray, and Lee’s magnetic beauty drew them all into the glamorous lives of famous artists and their wealthy patrons. But Lee fails to realize that her friendship with Nora is even older, that it goes back to their days as children in Poughkeepsie, New York, when a devastating trauma marked Lee forever. Will Nora’s reunion with Lee give them a chance to forgive past betrayals…and break years of silence to forge a meaningful connection as women who have shared the best and the worst that life can offer?
A novel of freedom and frailty, desire and daring, The Beautiful American portrays the extraordinary relationship between two passionate, unconventional women.
Until next time…enjoy the view from your passenger seat.