BookBrowse Reviews Villa America by Liza Klaussmann

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Villa America

A Novel

by Liza Klaussmann

Villa America by Liza Klaussmann X
Villa America by Liza Klaussmann
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2015, 432 pages

    Jun 2016, 432 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
Buy This Book

About this Book



In her second novel, Liza Klaussmann explores the glittering, tragic lives of Gerald and Sara Murphy, the real-life inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night.

Think of F. Scott Fitzgerald's novels and you might conjure up visions of extravagant Jazz-Age parties flowing with champagne and frivolity. Such scenes were inspired at least in part by a couple who were friends of the Fitzgeralds and Hemingways, Gerald and Sara Murphy. They lived at France's Cap d'Antibes and hosted lavish get-togethers at their home, Villa America.

Villa America is a fictional chronicle of several decades of the Murphys' lives and their interactions with their circle of writers and artists. Klaussmann's way into the Murphys' story comes through a fictional character that she created to fill a gap in the historical record. In 1926 Ernest Hemingway came to visit the Murphys and they threw him a huge party at a casino, even having a pilot fly in caviar from the Caspian Sea. Who was that nameless pilot? Klaussmann wondered. And so she invented Owen Chambers, a farm boy who grows up to be a fighter pilot in France during World War I and then becomes friends with the Murphys – a friendship that will eventually place strain on that marriage when he and Gerald strike up a secret romance.

The book starts slowly because the first third – devoted to Gerald's and Sara's childhoods and courtship – seems to have little bearing on the rest of the novel. Nevertheless, the letters they exchange during their separations are a highlight, as is the section where Gerald goes to Texas for military training and experiences a serious dust storm. However, it is not until the Murphys are established in France and receive visits from fellow artists – Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, and especially the Fitzgeralds – that the book really comes to life.

It is easy to see why the Murphys attracted hangers-on. Villa America is like a fantasy land where everything – even the "Black Service," as Gerald calls his occasional depression – seems rosy. Gerald strives "to build a beautiful castle, an idyll with high walls." He tells Sara: "The only world I want is the one we invent for ourselves." Despite their reputation for merry-making, the Murphys were also devoted parents, so stable that Zelda Fitzgerald says to Owen, "Don't you want them to adopt you? Scott and I do. They're so comforting." And, indeed, Fitzgerald appeared to adopt them as his models for the central couple in his fourth and final novel, Tender Is the Night (see 'Beyond the Book').

Yet beneath the façade of glamor, there is real sadness and struggle. Gerald's uncertain sexuality is a tacit issue between him and Sara, and sickness strikes the family with cruel precision. Correspondence from third parties covers the years 1930 to 1937, the worst time, when the Murphys were trying to hold it all together in the face of financial and medical disaster. The ending sets up a beautiful contrast between happiness and tragedy in the Murphys' lives. For example, a short final section entitled "What Was Found" remembers one of the best times: sailing together on the Riviera and setting up a pirate treasure hunt for the children.

Apart from its historical interest (the illuminating author's note gives Klaussmann's sources and hints at which of the wonderful letters in the novel are authentic and which are invented), this is a captivating portrait of a marriage in crisis: "Every couple had a dance, Sara knew, one that had to be performed when times got tricky." Klaussmann captures that marital dance precisely; her novel has all the atmosphere of carefree summer days on the Riviera, but equally capably shows what happens when seemingly perfect lives crumble.

Reviewed by Rebecca Foster

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2015, and has been updated for the June 2016 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Villa America, try these:

  • Costalegre jacket


    by Courtney Maum

    Published 2020

    About this book

    More by this author

    Sinuous and striking, heartbreaking and strange, Costalegre is heavily inspired by the real-life relationship between the heiress Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter, Pegeen. Acclaimed author Courtney Maum triumphs with this wildly imaginative and curiously touching story of a privileged teenager who has everything a girl could wish for except for a ...

  • The Last Train to Key West jacket

    The Last Train to Key West

    by Chanel Cleeton

    Published 2020

    About this book

    More by this author

    In 1935 three women are forever changed when one of the most powerful hurricanes in history barrels toward the Florida Keys.

We have 8 read-alikes for Villa America, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Liza Klaussmann
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Exiles
    by Jane Harper
    Our First Impressions readers were thrilled to return to the world of Jane Harper's protagonist ...
  • Book Jacket: Spice Road
    Spice Road
    by Maiya Ibrahim
    Imani is a Shield, a warrior who is renowned for her fighting abilities and for her iron dagger, ...
  • Book Jacket: A Mystery of Mysteries
    A Mystery of Mysteries
    by Mark Dawidziak
    Edgar Allan Poe biographers have an advantage over other writers because they don't have to come up ...
  • Book Jacket: Moonrise Over New Jessup
    Moonrise Over New Jessup
    by Jamila Minnicks
    Jamila Minnicks' debut novel Moonrise Over New Jessup received the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Nurse's Secret
by Amanda Skenandore
A fascinating historical novel based on the little-known story of America's first nursing school.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise
    by Colleen Oakley

    A “wildly surprising, entertaining ride of a novel.”
    —Jodi Picoult

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Russian Doll
    by Kristen Loesch

    A haunting epic of betrayal, revenge, and redemption following three generations of Russian women.

Win This Book
Win Last House Before the Mountain

Last House Before the Mountain by Monika Helfer

A spellbinding, internationally bestselling family saga set in a fractured rural village in WWI Austria.



Solve this clue:

R Peter T P P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.