Summary and book reviews of Delayed Rays of a Star by Amanda Lee Koe

Delayed Rays of a Star

by Amanda Lee Koe

Delayed Rays of a Star by Amanda Lee Koe X
Delayed Rays of a Star by Amanda Lee Koe
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jul 2019, 400 pages
    Jun 2020, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

A 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 for bit parts while dreaming of breaking away from her father's modest laundry; and Leni Riefenstahl, whose work as a director 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 seaside resort in East Germany to a luxury apartment on the Champs-Élysées, the different settings they inhabit are as richly textured as the roles they play: siren, muse, 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 ego, persona, complicity, desire, and difference. Intimate and raw, Delayed Rays of a Star is a visceral depiction of womanhood--its particular hungers, its calculations, and its eventual betrayals--and announces a bold new literary voice.


Before she crossed the ballroom to ask the Chinese woman for a dance, Marlene unloosed a curl from the crown of her finger wave, letting it fall across her forehead. It was a habit, now mostly unmindful, that she had acquired for herself as a schoolgirl, every time she wanted the attention of a classmate or the teacher.

Even from where she had been standing, Marlene could smell the fresh magnolia tucked behind the Chinese woman's left ear whenever she moved, which was often. This woman was cutting up the foxtrot, polka, and waltz, even as gouty gents swathed in silky cummerbunds trod on her toes, shod not in shoes but dance slippers, and so providing a winsome view of the high arch of her foot. To be sure, Marlene did not know if it was more that she wanted to dance with the woman, or to be together with her at the center of attention. The most satisfying thing about going with the moment was not having to wait to find out, but a pomaded, middle-aged man had stuck his cane out just ...

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BookBrowse Review


Delayed Rays of a Star explores the facades people adopt for the survival of their private and public selves. It examines how surface impressions and imagery can be both dangerous and vital. The loose structure of the novel, which at times appears haphazard, may not be to some readers' tastes. But this wandering is part of its magic. Like the cinematic professionals she features, Koe seeks to create an immersive tone and style that speaks for itself, and she succeeds...continued

Full Review (731 words).

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(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

Beyond the inner lives of these three women, Koe's novel delves into those who hovered around them, creating a broad tapestry encompassing the 1920s to 2003...It is hard to summarize a sprawling and ambitious novel like this, so I won't — but it is expertly woven, its characters alive and full-bodied. Blending questions about pop culture, war, and art, Delayed Rays of a Star is that rare book that is neither high- nor low-brow, refusing such facile dichotomies and playing, instead, in the messiness of the grey areas.

New York Journal of Books
Immense in scope, peppered with conversational musings, and touched by melancholy, Delayed Rays is patterned like one of Dietrich’s famous emeralds as our views of its characters are refracted by the changing times, and we circle them much as they circle each other. Bloodied they may be by history, but they emerge unbowed, particularly the defiant Riefenstahl...Much like the divas she writes about, Koe’s novel struts flamboyantly all over the map, yet what lingers is the heartbreaking grandeur of her protagonists’ existences.

Publishers Weekly
Very occasionally, the inclusion of the famous characters' biographies reads like a Wikipedia entry; more often, however, the details of each woman's life and work are fully integrated into an exploration of her inner life...Readers will find much to ponder in these vivid, fictionalized deep dives into three women who changed cinema.

Expansive and engaging, Koe’s debut novel explores the lives of three famous women, their art, and the price of fame...Koe brings her well-known protagonists to life, and manages a sprawling story with panache.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
For a novel so dense with historical fact and larger-than-life celebrity cameos...its portrayals are nuanced enough that each character comes off as deeply human regardless of their fame or importance to the novel's plot...Expansive, complex, and utterly engrossing.

Author Blurb Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
This is a voraciously intelligent, heartrending novel. Few books have so much life in them, or are so willing to explore the terrors of war and desire, the ruthlessness of genius. Maybe this novel can face the dark so fearlessly because it is itself so radiant, a blazing star. Amanda Lee Koe is a brilliant writer.

Author Blurb Tash Aw, author of The Harmony Silk Factory
In this swirling, brilliant debut, both the famous and the unknown struggle to navigate the tides of history. Cultures collide, horizons appear, worlds collapse. Filled with hope and desperation, Amanda Lee Koe's novel is a timely and timeless inquiry into what it means to be a woman, and a human being, in a universe that often seems not to care.

Author Blurb Ben Metcalf, author of Against the Country
Delayed Rays of a Star is a big, globetrotting, time-traveling wonder of a novel that made me laugh and in a hundred other ways appreciate the playful brilliance of Amanda Lee Koe. This is literature to feast upon and share, and a bold new voice to celebrate.

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Beyond the Book

Anna May Wong

Black and white publicity still of Anna May WongAnna May Wong was a Chinese-American film star who worked in the entertainment industry from the 1920s to the 1960s. As a person of color, she experienced limitations in the roles she was able to play throughout her career due to discrimination and typecasting. Many recognize her today as an overlooked icon.

Wong was born in 1905 to Chinese-American parents in Los Angeles. She began her career in Alla Nazimova's 1919 film The Red Lantern, where she played an extra. She would go on to snag the lead in the 1922 silent film The Toll of the Sea, an adaptation of Madame Butterfly that was the first general release film in two-color Technicolor.

Within the industry, Wong had to contend with numerous obstacles due to her Chinese heritage, ...

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