Delayed Rays of a Star: A Novel

Written by Amanda Lee Koe
Review by John La Bonne

Delayed Rays of a Star features three women—the actresses Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong, and the filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl—who were famously captured in a photograph by the legendary Alfred Eisenstaedt at a 1928 soirée in Berlin. The novel brilliantly imagines their lives before, during, and after the World War II years. Navigating the politics of the movie world of that era, all three were committed artists who struggled to maintain their individual vision of their work. They constantly fought male assumptions about their ability and their sex, while trying to live independently in a world that expected women to submit.

Koe depicts her characters’ contradictions with insightful verisimilitude. Marlene is crafty to the point of being manipulative but also wants to be loved; Anna gets cast in many notable films because she is Asian but is embarrassed by her Chinese heritage; Leni wants to make great films but willfully blinds herself to the fact that she services a despicable regime. All three are fiercely ambitious in a time when that trait in a woman is frowned upon. Koe rounds out the story with strong secondary characters, as well as with figures etched in history, such as Adolf Hitler and Josef von Sternberg. Delayed Rays of a Star is one of those risk-taking literary novels that dares us to follow where it leads. The narrative detours and surprises may not be for everyone, but it is a credit to Koe’s achievement that the reader’s patience is rewarded throughout the journey.