Genre: Adult Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: August 4, 2015
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "In this gorgeous, glamorous, and affecting novel, Liza Klaussmann does for Sara and Gerald Murphy what Paula McLain and Michael Cunningham did for Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf in The Paris Wife and The Hours. Villa America was in fact a real house on the French Riviera that Sara and Gerald Murphy built to escape to in the 1920's. Members of a group of expat Americans, they were known for their fabulous parties and for making the Riviera into the glamorous place it is today. Their freewheeling days were filled with champagne and caviar, but these were people who kept secrets and who were, of course, heartbreakingly human. This is a stunning story about the Lost Generation, about a marriage, about a golden age which could not last. "
Gerald Murphy grew up in a cold and strict household in the late 1800s. His parents, although present from time to time, were never actually present and their interactions left much to be desired. Sara, also growing up at the same time in Manhattan, lives the opposite life as a debutante with a hovering mother and two competitive sisters. Sara wants so much more than the life that is planned for her as does Gerald who is forced into his father's business. As they grow up, Sara and Gerald's connection becomes deeper and they realize they can be who themselves when around each other. Most importantly, they want something else for their lives, which inspires their escape to Cap d'Antibes and they build a gorgeous home there called Villa America. It's a place, away from it all, where they can raise their children in an idyllic fashion and live life the way they want to live it without rules and expectations. They can spend the day frolicing in the ocean, painting, and living a bohemian lifestyle which is completely opposite from the life they lived in New York. While living there, the Murphys enertain the Fitzgeralds, the Picassos, the Hemingways, and other notable people. Liza Klaussmann truly captures the Lost Generation and how even if you are away from it all, there's still no escaping some of life's inevitable challenges. Villa America is one of the best historical "beach reads" that I've read in quite awhile.
Klaussmann's Sara and Gerald Murphy are based on the real life couple who inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald's characters in Tender is the Night. I love this aspect of the book, because I went into it not really knowing much about the Murphys, but found them utterly fascinating the more and more I read about them in Villa America. I especially liked the character of Sara and her desire to escape the claustrophobic rules of society and find a place in the world where she could live the way she wants to. I loved how her relationship with Gerald unfolded and slowly blossomed into something more. On the other hand, Gerald's childhood literally made me ugly cry when I was reading about it. His cold parents, the ordeal with his dog...it all really tugged on my heartstrings and provided some more insight into his character. You see, Gerald is a complex character and as time goes on in Villa America, he struggles with his identity. He is definitely a multi-faceted character and one that I also sympathized with.
The setting of the villa in the French Riviera was a perfect escape and I'm so glad I read Villa America while on vacation. The lavish parties, the beautiful ocean views, the poolside cocktails, the breathtaking views, the fabulous guests all had me daydreaming. I loved how the Murphys entertained and always seem to roll with a glamorous entourage. How could I not be entertained by the people they associated with? My favorite guests were Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda Fitzgerald. I loved Klaussmann's portrayal of these characters; I thought it was all very well done. I studied the Lost Generation in college and Klaussman obviously referred to many primary sources when depicting these iconic characters.
But Villa America isn't all fun and games. There are so many moments that truly made me tear up or angered me. Klaussman is an expert writer. Not only was she able to get me to ugly cry twenty pages into the story, she also made me really and truly care about the Murphys. I wanted to know what was in store for them; I couldn't get enough. My only issue were the letters towards the end of the novel. Although interesting at first, it got monotonous at times. I wanted more than just a glimpse or reference to what was happening to Gerald and Sara. Thankfully, the ending provides better closure.
I love reading historical fiction like Villa America, because it inspires me to learn more about what I'm reading and that was the case with this novel. Although the character of the pilot Owen was entirely fictional, many of the other things that occurred in the story were based on real-life events, which I appreciate.
If you are looking for a smart beach read, I urge you to check out Villa America. It's beautifully written and truly makes you think. It's going down as one of the best books I read in 2016.