Summary and book reviews of Villa America by Liza Klaussmann

Villa America

A Novel

by Liza Klaussmann

Villa America by Liza Klaussmann
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2015, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2016, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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Book Summary

A dazzling novel set in the French Riviera based on the real-life inspirations for F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is The Night.

When Sara Wiborg and Gerald Murphy met and married, they set forth to create a beautiful world together - one that they couldn't find within the confines of society life in New York City. They packed up their children and moved to the South of France, where they immediately fell in with a group of expats, including Hemingway, Picasso, and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald.

On the coast of Antibes they built Villa America, a fragrant paradise where they invented summer on the Riviera for a group of bohemian artists and writers who became deeply entwined in each other's affairs. There, in their oasis by the sea, the Murphys regaled their guests and their children with flamboyant beach parties, fiery debates over the newest ideas, and dinners beneath the stars.

It was, for a while, a charmed life, but these were people who kept secrets, and who beneath the sparkling veneer were heartbreakingly human. When a tragic accident brings Owen, a young American aviator who fought in the Great War, to the south of France, he finds himself drawn into this flamboyant circle, and the Murphys find their world irrevocably, unexpectedly transformed.

A handsome, private man, Owen intrigues and unsettles the Murphys, testing the strength of their union and encouraging a hidden side of Gerald to emerge. Suddenly a life in which everything has been considered and exquisitely planned becomes volatile, its safeties breached, the stakes incalculably high. Nothing will remain as it once was.

Liza Klaussman expertly evokes the 1920s cultural scene of the so-called "Lost Generation." Ravishing and affecting, and written with infinite tenderness, Villa America is at once the poignant story of a marriage and of a golden age that could not last.

1898

Gerald thought about Pitz all the way home from school — he thought about him from the moment the bell rang at the Blessed Sacrament Academy, during the long walk through Central Park, Nurse's hand clamped painfully on his wrist, all the way to his house on West Fifty-Seventh Street — so by the time they reached his brownstone, his excitement was so great that he felt he might pee in his pants a little at the thought that the dog would be waiting for him behind the heavy black door.

Pitz had been his special birthday present when he turned ten, almost a year ago now. Mother had been sick with Baby, whatever that meant, and Gerald had been given Pitz. To teach him responsibility, his father had said. Gerald had heard the words, but they'd barely registered, because at the same moment, the wiry-haired fox terrier had bounded through the door into the drawing room.

Today his friend was exactly one year old and Gerald had smuggled him two butter biscuits from ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews

Booklist

Klaussmann presents an enrapturing historical novel about a loving marriage complicated by suppressed desire in a time of now-legendary creative ferment.

Publishers Weekly

Propelled by the drama-filled foibles of nearly every prominent lost generation figure a history buff could wish for, Klaussmann's atmospheric prose contains a treasure trove of trivia for fans of the era.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Beautifully written and surprisingly fresh given the well-worn subject matter.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Tense, seductive fiction.... Impressively done.

The Guardian (UK)

Real-life figures of the jazz age throw parties on the French Riviera in this exhilarating blend of fact and fiction.

Author Blurb Therese Anne Fowler, author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Liza Klaussmann's Villa America is so artful and compassionate that I couldn't fail to love the Murphys and everyone who fell into their orbit during those Lost Generation years, all of them fascinating and flawed and human. This is a beautifully rendered story.

Author Blurb >Megan Abbott, author of The Fever
What a gorgeous and profoundly moving book. I've been obsessed with the Murphys since I was a young teen...and Liza Klaussmann's novel felt both like it was utterly 'true' to their legend and yet also new and vital. I can't wait for the whole world to get to read it.

Author Blurb Priya Parmar, author of Vanessa and Her Sister
Klaussmann is a magnificent storyteller. Luminous, rich and superbly plotted, VILLA AMERICA swept me up into the deeply human, beautifully drawn lives of the Murphys and their dazzling circles of friends and family. This novel moves at a gallop but I kept stopping to marvel at the subtlety, the grace and the firework prose. I absolutely loved it.

Reader Reviews

Diane S.

Villa America
The novels of the Jazz Age have such a special atmosphere if done well. This age produced so many fine writers and artists whose works endure even now. Gerald and Sara Murphy are a couple I had read about in other novels but really didn't know very ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Gerald and Sara Murphy & Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night

Gerald and Sara Murphy are widely believed to be the inspiration for Dick and Nicole Diver, the central couple in F. Scott Fitzgerald's last novel, Tender Is the Night (1934), not just for their physical resemblance, but also for their habit of hosting lavish parties at Cap d'Antibes in the south of France. Indeed, Fitzgerald dedicated the novel "To Sara and Gerald, Many Fêtes."

In Tender is the Night, the Divers, like the Murphys, have a villa in the South of France to which they invite their many friends, mostly Americans. Dick, infatuated with actress Rosemary Hoyt, embarks on an affair, later complicated by a murder from which Dick must help Rosemary distance herself. Flashbacks reveal that Dick met his wife Nicole when, as a ...

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