Beatrice Colin's irresistible novel, The Glimmer Palace, follows the eventful life of a Berlin orphan who becomes a rising star in the brand-new medium of the cinema. Early 20th-century Berlin is just like Colin's engaging main character: anything it wants to be, and full of promise to be more.
The Glimmer Palace follows the dramatically named Lilly Nelly Aphrodite (her mother was a cabaret star, after all), but Berlin is also a central character in the story. As we watch the city wax and wane, trying to scrabble out of the heap of economic ruin after the Great War, we watch Lilly scrabble right along with it, from her life at an orphanage through WorldWar I to an early marriage and the seedy clubs where she tries to eke out a living. Finally, she gets a job typing scripts, which eventually lands her a screen test, and she blossoms on screen.
Colin's memorable tale is also the story of Germany's film industry between the wars (inspired by her great-aunt Nina, who had worked in the industry in Germany in the 1920s). Though the historical detail rings true, it is a mere backdrop to the compelling story of Lilly, and the greater unfolding of the journey of Germany toward the Third Reich.
This story may be too epic in some ways, but when it focuses on the lives of a few, The Glimmer Palace is haunting. Elements of romance blend with horrific details of wartime deprivation and death. We are given the fates of minor characters even as we meet them. We are never left hanging; we know exactly what happens to everyone. We want a happy ending for Lilly, but that ending is something you never see coming. This is Colin's third novel, and with a plot and setting so captivating, we can only hope it draws more notice than her first two.
Linda White is a writer in St. Paul, Minnesota.