An NPR Best Book of the Year
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 20th 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 of propaganda art films 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 bucolic village in the Bavarian Alps to a luxury apartment on the Champs-Élysées, the different settings they inhabit are as richly textured as the roles they play: siren, victim, 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 listener dexterously around murky questions of identity, complicity, desire, and difference. Intimate and clear-eyed, Delayed Rays of a Star is a visceral depiction of womanhood - its particular hungers, its oblique calculations, and its eventual betrayals - and announces a bold new literary voice.
“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.” (Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You)
“With a cool eye, devastating honesty, and an abundance of compassion, Amanda Lee Koe traverses the first half of the 20th century to bring 21st-century insights into the complex sexuality of women, the effects of racism, and the ruins that fascism left in its wake. A profound examination of the agony of power, the caprice of fame, and the indignities of growing old, Delayed Rays of a Star is a rare gem - a page-turning, inventive literary novel that is learned and wise. An absolute must read.” (Binnie Kirshenbaum, author of Rabbits for Food)
“Koe’s ambitious and well-researched debut novel successfully melds historical fact with expansive and generous storytelling...Throughout, their stories contend with the notion of authenticity in life and art - of how performers define themselves in the public sphere and behind closed doors. Readers will find much to ponder in these vivid, fictionalized deep dives into three women who changed cinema.” (Publishers Weekly)