A fast-paced read of an underappreciated woman.
Hedy Kiesler is a young, beautiful actress in Austria who is quickly forced into marriage with Fritz Mandl, a notorious arms dealing working with Mussolini and Hitler. Her marriage gives her protection as the Nazi movement grows (as she is Jewish) but quickly she realizes that what she really needs protection from is her husband. He uses her as a tool, a beautiful fool to make him look good and gives her absolutely no space of her own. She finally makes a long con pan to escape Austria, running off to England and ending up in Hollywood.
It is there the legend of Hedy Lamarr is born, the beautiful actress every man wanted and every woman wanted to be. When Hollywood turns it’s back on her, Hedy turns to her inventions, but as it’s been for her entire life, men underestimate her.
We read this for my library book club, and I would HIGHLY recommend it for book club purposes or if you like a quick historical fiction read. There’s so much you can discuss with this book, including Nazi’s, Hollywood, politics and marriage making prisoners of women, family, religion and Judaism, inventors and women in STEM. Honestly our discussion could have gone an hour and a half or longer with how much there is to discuss here. This book is short, coming in at around 270 pages, and each chapter is only 3-10 pages each, which means you barrel through it. Benedict keeps it moving at a nice pace, and although you clearly know she is going to make it big in Hollywood, the scenes in which she’s trying to escape her husband have more tension than I was expecting.
The one downside to this book is that it concentrates so heavily on the first part of her life (she doesn’t make it to Hollywood til around page 150) the latter half, and in my opinion, more interesting portion, gets a bit shafted. I was more interested in her life story post moving to America, how did she get involved with the war effort and inventing? They do cover this in the book, but I wanted there to be more, and I was a big saddened by the lack of it. That being said there is a documentary on Netflix called Bombshell I would highly recommend on this topic.
Overall, The Only Woman in the Room is an accessible and capable historical fiction novel. It’s a fast read, gets right into the nitty-gritty of Hedy’s life, and makes for great discussion. I found myself researching more about Hedy Lamarr as I read, which is exactly what authors want from a historical fiction novel.
Title: The Only Woman in the Room
Author: Marie Benedict
Three Descriptors: Captivating, historical, informative
Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes
Enchantress of Numbers by Jennifer Chiaverini
Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin
The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton