The Dictator’s Muse, Nigel Farndale 4/5
The Dictator’s Muse is set during the Berlin Olympics of the 1930’s. Hitler is taking power and the book focuses on Leni Riefenstahl, a film-maker popular with the Third Reich, whom Hitler has requested capture the Olympics.
Competing in the Olympics is British athlete Kim Newlands. Along with his socialite girlfriend Connie, he joins the Blackshirts, who sponsor him to compete. Alun Pryce is a communist set on infiltrating the Blackshirts. Acting undercover, he finds his way into Kim and Connie’s lives, and the three become inextricably intertwined, a relationship built on lies and misdirection with heart-wrenching consequences.
As the three arrive at the Olympics and meet Leni, the story unfurls. Leni is moving in dangerous circles, and the writing is suspenseful and gripping, showing us the knife-edge that Leni is balancing on in her relationship with the Third Reich and Hitler himself. In the present day, Sigrun Meier is attempting to piece together Leni’s life and work. Via her investigations, we discover what happened to the Leni’s film of the unknown athlete at the Olympics, and also what happened to Alun, Connie and Kim.
The ending seemed a little far-fetched and convenient for me, and I felt that the author could have delved into Leni Riefenstahl’s relationship with the Third Reich further, as well as the history of the Blackshirts and those who worked against them – as someone with little knowledge of this period in time, I felt as though the political factions took somewhat of a backseat to the characters and their stories and would have appreciated more background on what each group represented.
The characters themselves are excellently portrayed, however, and this is what makes the book such a great read. I was gripped by this book, more than I expected. It is a subject area I know little about and this book has piqued my interest, I really want to find out more about Leni Riefenstahl and her relationship with the Nazis, as well as the events surrounding the Berlin Olympics and the athletes competing.
I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting a thrilling, intense read.
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(This review previously appeared on my past blog, One Empty Shelf. Thank you to Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book).