Book Report: Keep reading, keep discovering
Just when you think you know all you need to know about a subject, a new book pops up and you're able to learn much more.
Years ago, I wrote my master's thesis on Minnesota-born novelist Sinclair Lewis.
Before I dug in, I always thought of Lewis as "the scourge of Sauk Centre," because he used his home town as a model for Main Street.
Upon further examination of his life, however, I learned that he loved his home town and only wished it would love him back.
I ended up reading all of Lewis's novels and even managed to befriend his niece, whom I met on the occasion of Lewis's 100th birthday.
I was always somewhat amused at his ill-fated second marriage to international correspondent Dorothy Parker.
When their divorce was in the works, Lewis jokingly told journalists that he wanted to name Adolf Hitler as co-respondent because globe-hopping Parker spent more time on the phone with der fuehrer than she did with Lewis.
Now I've finished reading a new book, "Dangerous Ambition," by Susan Hertog (Ballantine Books, $30) to find out that Lewis's version of the story is just one side of the triangle.
Hertog's book tells the story of two brilliant feminists, years ahead of their time, and the husbands who made their lives miserable.
One is the British novelist Rebecca West, who married H.G. Wells and lived to regret it. The other is Dorothy and the disastrous liaison she fell into with Lewis.
Both are wonderfully researched and sparkling stories by Hertog who earlier wrote a biography of Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
Two bonuses for me:
One, Hertog intertwines international history during the first half of the 20th century with the lives of these two remarkable women and the company they kept.
Second, I always wondered what happened to Michael Lewis, the troubled offspring of the Dorothy/Sinclair marriage, who took up a big portion of Mark Shorer's monumental study of Lewis' life and then was apparently forgotten.
Not Hertog. Turns out that Michael Lewis became a second-rate actor, an incredibly difficult person to be with and a drunk. Just like his father.
While we're on the subject of interesting women in the first half of the 20th century, I must admit I always dismissed Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress who died with him in the bunker in 1945 as Berlin lit up in flames, as just one more dumb blonde.
Not so, according to German biographer Heike B. Bortemaker in
"Eva Braun: Life with Hitler," translated from the German by Damien Searles (Knopf, $27.95).
In Bortemaker's even-handed if sometimes tedious account, Braun turns out to have a real personality, tried suicide twice, and was actually interested in the cult of Nazism.
And unlike earlier biographers, she finds much evidence that the Braun/Hitler twosome was much more than platonic.
It turns out that our misconception of Braun is mostly thanks to Nazi survivors like architect Albert Speer, who claimed she was an apolitical nothing, who just happened to eat vegetarian in the Berghof with the fuehrer. Bortemaker says that most big-shot Nazis who weren't executed told the same story because they wanted to protect their own hides.
So Speer came up with tales that were later contradicted by newly opened files. He said that he and his wife Margrete and Eva, part of Hitler's inner circle, didn't believe in Hitler's nonsense, but liked to eat dinner with him because he "knew so much about art and music."
The banality of Hitler's private life is a thing to behold. Bortemaker's account is more revealing than earlier books on the subject.
On the regional front, Milkweed Editions of Minneapolis is out with "Calli," by Jessica Lee Anderson ($16.95). Calli is a fifteen-year-old with the world at her doorstep.
She's favored with two loving mothers, a daughter in a same-sex marriage. Everything is going along swimmingly until her mothers decide to adopt another young girl, Cherish.
Cherish turns out to be a real pain in the neck. She lies about Calli, she kisses Calli's boyfriend.
So Calli decides to take matters into her own hands with disastrous results.