by Liza Klaussmann (Picador) ISBN: 978-1-4472-8438-3
Villa America is an historical novel based on real people, Sara Wiborg and Gerald Murphy. Villa America was this American couple’s home on the French Riviera, where they lived in the 1920s/30s. Sara and Gerald were the inspiration for F.Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, the focus of Klaussmann’s Master’s thesis. She also wrote Tigers in Red Weather.
Villa America chronicles the lives of Sara and Gerald, whose hospitality and lavish parties were as legendary as the eclectic and avante garde guests they entertained. Among these were Fitzgerald, his lover Zelda, Ernest Hemingway, a White Russian called Vladimir, and a fighter-pilot named Owen.
Villa America is their story; re-imagined by Klaussmann but historically accurate. It is painstakingly researched but rendered in such a way that it is a compelling, engrossing love-story with characters (most of whom actually existed) vividly described. I wish I could have met them. It is only the concluding Author’s Notes that reveal what is factual and what was “part of that shadowland where historical fiction lives”.
I loved this novel. It made me wistful for the era’s zeitgeist, and I was heart-broken to learn who wasn’t real. I would have loved to have visited Villa America.