I picked up this book by word of mouth. It was good, fascinating that it’s a true story… but with some drawbacks. I sort of wonder how much is true and how much embellished…
The story follows the women who would come to be known as Hedy Lamarr, famous Hollywood beauty. She was born Hedy Kiesler, a Jew in Austria pre-WWII. She was a stage actress, and caught the eye of Fritz Mundel, known later as “the Merchant of Death.” He was an arms dealer who sold weapons of war to the highest bidder, and it was believed at the time that he was courting Hedy that he was the only one standing between Hitler and Austria, with ties at that time to Mussolini. Hedy’s father convinced her to marry Fritz, and she was actually enamored with him during their courtship too… but very quickly after they married, he changed, and started treating her like a piece of meat.
Here was where I started to wonder what was true and what wasn’t. I had thought the title referred to the fact that Hedy was able to eavesdrop on Mundel’s guests and later report what they’d said once she’d escaped to America, but the bias of the author suddenly made me aware of another meaning: she is alone in a man’s world. It’s not at all hard to believe that Fritz Mundel would have been a monster, would have raped his wife, would have been horribly jealous, but also would want to show off her beauty. Women certainly were treated much worse back then than they are today. That said, it was clear that this was a feminist’s take on her life, which cast all the horrible treatment of her into question.
I already knew the story involved not only Hedy’s flight to America from her abusive husband after it was clear that he was going to align himself with Hitler after all, and also her debut in Hollywood. Throughout the book up until that point, it references her “scientific ideas” that she tinkers with from time to time, though this is always very non-specific. It isn’t until Hedy feels guilty for the fact that she absconded from Austria without alerting any of the other Jews that she decides that she will come up with an alternative, radio-frequency based torpedo that is far more accurate and unjammable, and use it to help the allies, with the view of shortening the war. She enlists an unlikely ally in this process, a composer, because of his ability to think outside the box. When she and George submit their brilliant plan for a patent and to the Navy for implementation, they use the name Hedy Kiesler rather than Hedy Lamarr, to avoid rejection due to her fame and beauty. When it’s rejected anyway, they appeal… only to discover that it was rejected, “because she is a woman.” I have a hard time buying that as the sole reason. I just feel like there had to be more to the story, and the author’s obvious intense bias leads me to be suspicious of that conclusion.
That said, it was still a fascinating biography.
My rating: ****
Language: I think there was a little?
Violence: present but not gratuitous
Sexual content: present but not gratuitous
Political content: depending on your perspective, possibly heavy