An NPR Best Book of the YearA dazzling debut novel following the lives of three groundbreaking women–Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, and Leni Riefenstahl–cinema legends who lit up the twentieth century At a chance encounter at a Berlin soirée in 1928, the photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captures three very different women together in one frame: up-and-coming German actress Marlene Dietrich, who would wend her way into Hollywood as one of its lasting icons; Anna May Wong, the world’s first Chinese American star, playing bit parts while dreaming of breaking away from her father’s modest laundry; and Leni Riefenstahl, whose work as a director of propaganda art films would first make her famous–then, infamous.
From this curious point of intersection, Delayed Rays of a Star lets loose the trajectories of these women’s lives. From Weimar Berlin to LA’s Chinatown, from a bucolic village in the Bavarian Alps to a luxury apartment on the Champs-Élysées, the different settings they inhabit are as richly textured as the roles they play: siren, victim, predator, or lover, each one a carefully calibrated performance. And in the orbit of each star live secondary players–a Chinese immigrant housemaid, a German soldier on leave from North Africa, a pompous Hollywood director–whose voices and viewpoints reveal the legacy each woman left in her own time, as well as in ours.
Amanda Lee Koe’s playful, wry prose guides the reader dexterously around murky questions of identity, complicity, desire, and difference. Intimate and clear-eyed, Delayed Rays of a Star is a visceral depiction of womanhood–its particular hungers, its oblique calculations, and its eventual betrayals–and announces a bold new literary voice.