Written by Gill Paul, and published on August 18, 2020, I found this book to be exceptionally well done. It was a page turner and a half, chronicling in historical-fiction fashion, the lives of Maria Callas and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis through the mid/late 1950’s through 1975.
The author undoubtedly had an embarrassment of riches in terms of source information to pull from for this book. Jackie and Maria were two of the most talked about women of their times and even today they have fierce devotees.
From the stage of the famed La Scala opera theater to the White House, it’s almost as if we the readers are privy to a world that was behind the velvet rope. These grand settings weren’t the only places for drama in the book, the scenes shifted to intimate bedroom and beach vignettes, again allowing the readers seeming access to the most private of circumstances.
The author has detailed in an interview that in the book, she wanted to present Maria Callas so that she would immediately become a sympathetic character. The author continues that she believes that Jackie Kennedy Onassis, widow of President John F. Kennedy, would automatically have the sympathy of the reading audience.
Newspapers and press coverage of the day painted Maria Callas as an adulterous, demanding diva (aka beeyotch) who ignored the desperate pleas of her ailing mother. Jackie, on the other hand, was painted as the soul of strength, a paragon of virtue, after the stillborn death of a son, the writhing Happy Birthday singing of Marilyn, and the 1963 assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy.
The book, as accurately as I believe any fictional account could, highlights and explores how different these women were from their public personas. They were absolutely more nuanced and certainly stronger and more shrewd than any member of the press would ever give them credit for.
Still, I couldn’t help but think that the author displayed the slightest bias of detail and speculation modesty towards Jackie. Perhaps it was natural for this deference, as Jackie was a former First Lady of the United States. However, I would imagine that the heart of this book is about true love. As such, all is fair in love and war…
Speaking of true love, from actual news headlines to the pages of this book, one could surmise that both ladies, Jackie and Maria, each probably had only one true love in their lives. Yet, that love did not shield either of them from the bitterest of betrayals.
The man that “caused” Jackie and Maria to be rivals was Aristotle Onassis and just in case you’re not too familiar with the details of their saga, the name Onassis truly is a huge spoiler.
Nevertheless, I whole-heartedly recommend this book to the casual fan of Jackie and/or Maria or of history itself for that matter and to the devotee who has read every shred of available material on the ladies. The author, Gill Paul, has done an overall excellent job of weaving together details real and imagined. So much so that I believe that even the well-versed of the glitterati will walk away with fresh insights about these two extraordinary women.
Jones, My Opinion