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From Paris in the 1920s to London after the Blitz, two women find that a secret from their past reverberates through years of joy and sorrow....
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.
Readers Guide Included
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Jeanne Mackin teaches creative writing at Goddard College in Vermont and has taught or conducted workshops in Pennsylvania, Hawaii and New York. She lives with her husband, artist Steve Poleskie, in upstate New York. She is also the author of several novels: The Sweet By and By, Dreams of Empire, The Queen’s War, and The Frenchwoman.
Read an Excerpt
“Look.” Lee Miller stood and pulled on her gloves. “Can you come to us this weekend? Come meet Roland. I married, you know. Twice, to be precise. Aziz and I married after you left Paris, but it didn’t last. God, Cairo was so boring. But I think this one will last. Come meet the husband, and little Anthony. Yes, I have a child. A boy. The most beautiful little boy in the world. I’m absolutely besotted.”
Pain knifed my chest. “I didn’t plan a long stay,” I said, trying to sound a touch careless, a little preoccupied with all the things I had to do. “And I didn’t bring evening clothes. In fact, I am wearing my entire travel wardrobe.”
It was a silly excuse but one that would do when the truth was too painful. I didn’t want to see Lee holding her child. Lee, who had never wanted to marry, to have children, now had both husband and son. And my child was lost; her father, the man who should have been my husband, was an ocean away, living with a different wife, a different family.
Lee laughed. “Darling, that doesn’t matter. Wear a sheet if you must. It will be like the old days. Do come! On Friday, take the afternoon train to Lewes and we’ll pick you up at the station. On Sunday, we’ll drive you to Newhaven and you can catch the ferry to France.”
She stood and reached for the bill, signing it rather than leaving cash. I read her signature upside down. Lady Penrose of Poughkeepsie, it said. Lee still had a sense of humor.
I hadn’t yet agreed to the weekend, so she played her strongest card.
“Pablo will be there,” she said, and was out the door before I could say no.
Pablo. When I had to leave Paris, Pablo Picasso had been the one to help me, not because we were close—we were not—or because he was particularly kind to young girls in trouble—he was not. It had merely been one of those life-forming coincidences. That day, as I stood on the Pont Neuf wondering where I would go, what I would do, he had come toward me on his way to somewhere. There was just enough kindness in his voice when he asked, “Ça va?” that I sobbed my story out to him. He had already known, of course. That’s the sad truth of betrayal. It makes a poor secret except to the betrayed.
He paused, then gave me a piece of paper on which he’d written the name of a friend who would take me in. He would write to her the very next day, he promised, and I fled to his friend, Madame Hughes, in Grasse. Seventeen years ago. A war ago. A child ago. A lifetime ago.
Lee had introduced me to Pablo, and to many others. She had given, and she had taken. I looked out the window and watched Lee cross the street with that determined stride of hers. She waved, grinned, and disappeared into the crowd.
I stared at the card, wondering how much the train to Lewes would cost. No one ever said no to Lee Miller, and if she thought they might, she simply never asked the question. Of course, there was always a first time. Why should I interrupt my search for Dahlia to play houseguest for the woman who had, years before, derailed my dreams? Because the search is over, a dark voice said in my head. There is nowhere else to look.
I rose to leave the restaurant, walking in the wake of Lee’s perfume. I smelled it, then, that bottom note I hadn’t noticed before. Camphor, eucalyptus, and the salty, acrid bottom note of merbromin. Medicine. The smell carried me backward.
Scents are memories’ bid for immortality; they keep the past alive.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for The Beautiful American
"Mackin’s ability to re-create history and to create believable characters and situations makes her new work a transfixing story that is hard to put down. Sure to be loved by fans of Mackin and of the historical novel; very highly recommended."Library Journal
“Readers will rank [it] right up there with The Paris Wife…. A brilliant, beautifully written literary masterpiece…”New York Times bestselling author Sandra Dallas
“Will transport you to expat Paris… and from there take you on a journey through the complexities of a friendship…breathes new life into such luminaries as Man Ray, Picasso, and, of course, the titular character, Lee Miller, while at the same time offering up a wonderfully human and sympathetic protagonist in Nora Tours.”Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist
“Leaves its essence of love, loss, regret, and hope long after the novel concludes."Erika Robuck, author of Fallen Beauty
“Achingly beautiful and utterly mesmerizing… Sure to appeal to fans of Paula McLain's The Paris Wife and Erika Robuck's Call Me Zelda, or indeed to anyone with a taste for impeccably researched and beautifully written historical fiction.” Jennifer Robson, author of Somewhere in France
“An engaging and unforgettable novel. I couldn’t put it down.”Renee Rosen, author of Dollface
"An exquisitely imagined and beautifully rendered story of the talented, tragic, gorgeous Lee Miller."Becky E. Conekin, author of Lee Miller in Fashion
“Beautiful…A fascinating account of a little-known woman who was determined to play by her own rules.”Historical Novel Society
“Lovers of the film A Midnight in Paris will definitely enjoy this.”Chick Lit Plus
“[An] exquisitely depicted story of love, betrayal, forgiveness.”Crystal Book Reviews
“An engrossing novel…Compulsively readable.”BookNAround
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An absolutely beautiful novel. The novel begins with Nora looking all over Paris for her daughter. We don't know how old she is or the situation surrounding her disappearance. Only that Nora is looking at places she believes her daughter, Dahlia, would search out. While looking for her daughter, Nora runs into her old friend Lee. There are a few 'flashbacks', but when Nora goes off with Lee, the author tells us Nora's story up until current day. The novel isn't one where there is a lot of action. It's a story, a recounting of time gone by. Beautifully written. I found myself drawn into this world (pre WWII) in Paris, the artists. The narrator (Nora) seems enthralled by her friend Lee. Lee is beautiful, sexual, powerful and controlling. Things Nora is not. I found out, while reading this Lee Miller was indeed an actual person. I understood Nora's fascination with Lee. On one hand she is beautiful and manipulative, but there is a vulnerability to her, a softness that really drew me in. I wanted to dislike her, yet I couldn't. Both woman live in Europe during WWII, having very different experiences. It changes them. It grows them. Moments where I had to put the novel down at the reality of war...the ugliness. MacKin shows not only the reality and pain, but the beauty of survival during the era. Emotional. The Beautiful American is captivating to say the least. Highly recommending.
Expatriate Nora from America remembers her friendship with Lee Miller as a child. Nora was the child of the gardener who took care of Lee’s yard. At first they were allowed to play together, but then something tragic happened to Lee and the friendship was abruptly terminated. Years later Lee and Nora meet in Europe during the WWII years, but Lee doesn’t seem to recall their earlier friendship, only the time of their European journey. For Lee has evolved into a very successful model who is the lover of the brilliant artist Man Ray. Nora falls in love with another artist only to suffer a brutal betrayal. All of the involved characters meet up several times over the years of the Vichy takeover. During that time Nora will meet and get to know the famous artist Pablo Picasso as well as other notable characters pivotal to the cultural changes rocking European and American society. Nora loses her daughter toward the end of the Vichy government’s brutal reign. Heartbroken and possess with the need to find her child, who is actually a grown-up woman with her own story that she definitely does not want to share with anyone, least of all her mother. An added bonus involves the world of perfume as both a business and an artistic significance during this time – beauty and fragrance in a most unsavory time! The Beautiful American is a tightly plotted, moving story filled with the bohemian allure of the artists living expatriate lives in Paris and elsewhere throughout Europe as well as the ferocity and complex machinations of wartime soldiers and political leaders. The story’s haunting ambience will remain in the reader’s thoughts and feelings for a long time after experiencing this exquisitely depicted story of love, betrayal, forgiveness, haunting memories and so much more! Finely crafted, Jeanne Mackin! A keeper of historical fiction for sure!
From Poughkeepsie to Paris Mackin renders an achingly beautiful story of art, friendship, love and motherhood. She takes you into the ex-pat world of many famous and fictional artists during the 20s in Paris and beyond, including the Blitz in London. It’s a beautiful, touching story that's compulsively readable. Filled with rich characters and historical detail, I'm so excited for people to discover this wonderful novel and cannot wait to read more from her.
This newest novel from Jeanne Mackin is a breathtaking look at art and politics in the years leading up to World War II. Based on the life of the beautiful Lee Miller, the model turned photographer, it follows the friendship between Lee and Nora, a childhood friend who meets up with her again in the dizzying Paris of the 30's and 40's. Lee lived bravely, even recklessly, matching the wild surrealists in their search for art and pleasure and eventually making the leap from mistress and model to artist in her own right. Lee Miller photographed battles and, at the closing of the war, the liberation of the concentration camps. The novel is beautifully written, carefully researched, a can't-put-it-down-read.
3.5 stars - rounded An interesting concept for an historical story, using a fictional character to inform and build on the story of a true person. Based on the life of Lee Miller (expat model and photographer) and her childhood friend Nora. Through a traumatic event, these two very dissimilar women were separated and went on to lives of very different trajectories. Lee Miller was to become the ‘face’ of the surrealist movement in Paris, and the first female war correspondent / photographer in WWII. As one might expect, Lee is the sour to the very sweet, almost spineless Nora, a matter of life circumstances as Lee was the rich and pampered daughter while Nora was simply the gardener’s child. These two were born and lived their early lives in Poughkeepsie, and played together as children. When they are separated, Lee dashes off to Europe to make a name for herself, and Nora is left behind. Fast forward to Nora’s searching for her daughter, also in France, but not heard from since just after Grasse. Nora decides that she will trace her daughter’s footsteps through Europe in the hopes of finding her. What happens is that she re-encounters Lee, now more famed and far different from the young girl she knew. Both women’s lives to this point are presented in flashbacks, Nora’s story is a touch more compelling, as she is far more concerned with those around her. Lee’s stories are far more a “who’s who” with an eye to the gains she herself made with each new experience and connection. Lee is not a particularly likeable character: although certainly gifted and driven her personality is just not pleasant. Nora is more likable, but far too often I wished for her to grow some spine and confront Lee about her bad behavior, her inappropriate comments and even her callous disregard of everyone she encounters. Sadly, the “beautiful American” is far less so at the end of this book – at a distance and looking at the overall achievements she is wonderfully compelling. Upon closer examination she is far less compelling or attractive. MacKin does bring a sense of the hardships and flavor of the times for both characters, and gives plenty of room for thought. An interesting read for fans of historical fiction. I received a Paperback copy of the title from the publisher for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Moving story line that keeps you interested in what will happen next. Also found myself looking up Lee Miller to find out more about her life.
Based on a true person Lee Miller (a model and photographer) and a fictional friend Nora, this story begins when the girls are children in upstate NY. Lee the daughter of a wealthy family and Nora a middle class family play together and thus begins a story of their lives. Through their stories that intertwine through the years, we see Paris in the late 20's, occupied southern France and post war France. Lee the flamboyant life, Nora sweet and simple, but so talented. Sometimes I got put out with Nora for being so passive about so many things but really she ends up being such a good person. Lee is the definition of emancipated woman, a user of people, then she is nice....easy to see that Nora is the fictional person. Very nice read, I couldn't put it down while on vacay and finished in 2 days.
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Nora follows a boy across the world and they end up in Paris where they reconnect with a childhood friend who has made a name for herself and they are introduced to the glamorous side of Paris. Things combust and World War II takes it toll on the world. The one thing that kept me reading from beginning to end was the ability to see Paris through an American's viewpoint and watching the beginning of Hitler's reign through her eyes. It took quite a few pages to get to that point, but I cherished her descriptions of watching World War II impact Paris but in her heart being an American. On the flip side, I found Nora to be whining and frustrating. I wanted her to grow up and felt that she honestly didn't have much personal growth through her journey.