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The Only Woman in the Room–beauty, talent, and brains

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The Only Woman in the Room

by Marie Benedict

the only woman in the roomWe meet Hedy Kiesler as a young actress in Vienna, Austria, in 1933 just as munitions manufacturer Friedrich (Fritz) Mandl begins courting her. Europe is on the cusp of war, and Hitler has started his attack on Jews. Under other circumstances, Hedy’s parents might have refused permission for the courtship, but they could see the benefit of a marriage to the rich, powerful, and well connected man.

Unfortunately, Mandl’s character changes after their marriage, and he becomes abusive and controlling. Hedy’s father had encouraged her as a child in studying many subjects, especially the sciences. Hedy teams her interest in science with her position as an ornament at dinner parties to listen in on the conversations of dangerous and powerful guests in the Mandl home. Later, after escaping from Fritz, she tries to use that knowledge to save lives as Hitler continues his military advances.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part deals with Hedy, her marriage, and the entrance of the United States into the war. The second focuses on her two careers after her escape from Fritz: one as the famous Hedy Lamarr (her new, non-German sounding, stage name) and the other as an inventor. Her talents as an actress and her incredible beauty outweigh her potential contributions to the war effort in the eyes of the men in power at that time.

In The Only Woman in the Room, Marie Benedict has created a historical novel about a very complex woman living in times that were difficult for everyone, but especially for women. It is important to remember that even though the book is well researched, Benedict is basically filling in the skeleton of a plot with details, some of which are true and others that only  might have occurred. In this book Hedy is overcome with guilt over hearing Hitler’s plans but not doing anything about them. She doesn’t believe in God, but she is dogged by a fear that she has not done enough to make up for her silence and inaction. Of course, as she finds out later, as a woman there was little she could contribute that would be valued. During the last part of the book, I couldn’t help but wonder whose scales she was concerned about—her own sense of morality, public opinion, or judgement by a higher being. That was never clarified and yet it appeared to be a driving force for her.

I liked this book but not as much as Benedict’s two prior books, The Other Einstein and Carnegie’s Maid. All three novels address the hidden contributions of women. All three ladies are women of talent and intellect operating under difficult circumstances. All deserve respect, but I think I can empathize more with Mileva, Einstein’s first wife, and with Clara, a lady’s maid in Andrew Carnegie’s household. Hedy was born into privilege and by virtue of her beauty moved in important social circles. Although perhaps it shouldn’t, that background erects a barrier for me.

The Only Woman in the Room is a well-written and well-researched historical novel. Benedict specializes in drawing out the stories of women whose intellectual abilities have been overlooked. It will be interesting to see whose story she will discover and share in her next historical novel.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Sourcebooks Landmark for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Publication:   January 8, 2019—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

I’d become like one of the Rembrandts on the wall or the antique Meissen porcelain on the sideboard. Simply another priceless, inanimate decoration for Fritz to display, a symbol of his wealth and prowess.

It seemed that my best chance of undermining the Third Reich—and ensuring that a German submarine or ship never again harmed a ship full of refugee children—might be to somehow use the knowledge I’d gathered to capitalize on the weakness in the German torpedo systems.

“I must admit it would be hard for us to sell our soldiers and sailors on a weapons system created by a woman. And we’re not going to try.”

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17 Comments

  1. Wendy says:

    Wasn’t she amazing?! Hedy Lamar, what an amazing woman, someone History has not recognized, but Mel Brooks adored.
    I loved everything I’ve ever read about her what an amazing person.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wendy says:

    And I went directly and placed my order for my copy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lghiggins says:

      I’m glad my review let you know about this book then! I am embarrassed to say I was not familiar with her, but then that’s what reading is all about–expanding our worlds.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wendy says:

        She was in many of the Bob Hope Bing Crosby movies. I don’t know why she’s been in my face since I was about 8. I gravitate to everything she’s done.

        Liked by 1 person

      • lghiggins says:

        I need to go back and watch some of her movies. My family didn’t often watch movies in the theater or on TV. I guess that’s how I missed her. Isn’t it funny how we can be interested in a subject and we focus on it when others don’t see it?

        Like

  3. Wendy says:

    You mention that she doesn’t “believe in God”, but what I think is amazing is that her actions indicate a very deliberate illustration of the direction of the Holy Spirit, and how God can and will use the most unlikely among us, and even times the unwilling, or unknowing, or unlikely. She “knew” where the evil was and worked against it with everything she had, her acquaintances, her knowledge, her intellect, her beauty, and her determination.
    I’m more inspired by this woman than anyone, because…..she embodies everything I’ve ever seen in an any one woman. She’s a multifaceted, greatly flawed, redeemed, struggling, independent, creative, and charming woman. She’s not an ornament, she’s not a scientist, she’s the fullest version of a woman I’ve ever seen. A patriot, contributor, spy, creator, mother, entrepreneur, visionary, radical, sex symbol, feminine, authentic, loving daughter of a scientist who wanted to do something 60 years ago, and NOTHING STOPPED HER! Not even the lack of credit.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wendy says:

    I’m sorry to comment so much. I’m just So excited about this book and subject.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lghiggins says:

      I’m glad this is something you are passionate about. I like your take on her spirituality. I agree that this is a perfect example of God being able to bring good out of the bad things that happen. I went to Wikipedia, admittedly not the definitive voice on anything, after I finished the book, and was amazed at her life. There is so much about her that the book could not and did not attempt to cover. And that was just the breadth of her life, not the depth. I’m so glad you added your voice to this, Wendy. I will be excited to hear what you think of the book, to see if you like the way this part of her life was covered.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A remember Hedy Lamar from the movies but didn’t realize the other part of her life. The news media was under wartime restrictions. I seem to remember there was something scandalous about her death but I may have her mixed up with Carol Lombardi. The Hope and Crosby movies were a favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. 4 stars is still an excellent rating. Having no experience with this author, I’d have nothing to compare to, but I do love that she introduces women of intellect and import who haven’t had their praises sung as they should. As you mentioned, Hedy Lamarr was an actress, so I don’t think she was as unknown as the other two, but perhaps not known for what she should be: her mind.

    Lovely, honest review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lghiggins says:

      Yes, every book can’t be a 5 and I did like the book and recommend it. Despite it being fiction, there is a lot of information in it about the war and about Hollywood. It seems sexual harassment in Hollywood is a really bad “tradition.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sadly, not surprising. I just finished a fictional book based on the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and abuse in the entertainment industry, and, of course, we seem to hear new stories every day. I suspect it’s a nasty tradition that pervades everywhere women have worked or existed since the dawn of time. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  7. carhicks says:

    I agree with all the other comments, I knew Hedy Lamaar was an actress, but did not know anything about her background. I did put Carnegie’s Maid on my TBR a while ago, but now I need to read this one. Wonderful review Linda. I understand why you had to give it 4 instead of 5 stars when you compare it to others by the same author.

    Liked by 1 person

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