The Roaring Days of Zora Lily: A Novel
Greta Garbo’s white satin gown from the 1923 film, The Star, is the centerpiece at the Smithsonian’s Hollywood Glamour Exhibition in 2023. As a costume curator is fitting the alluring gown, designed by Michele Clémente, famous designer of the ’20s and ’30s, onto a mannequin, the tag flutters to the floor, revealing the elegantly stitched name of Zora Lily. Recognizing that the gown’s design was a divergence from Clémente’s signature demure, high neckline, she wonders, “Who is Zora Lily?”
Noelle Salazar immerses readers in the dreams of a young, hardworking seamstress from a poverty-stricken family in Seattle of 1924. A tragedy leaves Zora Hough as the family breadwinner, dashing her dreams of becoming a famous designer like Coco Chanel. Using perfectly aligned stitches, Salazar pieces together a stunning masterpiece, from the fringe on the speakeasy costumes for Zora’s best friend, Rose, to the unlikely attention from a wealthy businessman, Harley, and his bootleggers slithering around Prohibition, and the frantic sewing rooms backstage on Hollywood shows. Salazar sets an emotional stage filled with happiness from the noise, joyful laughter, and connection between Zora and her siblings and contrasts it with the stilted staff, jealousy, and anxiousness in the living rooms of the wealthy. The well-developed characters and Zora’s childhood recollections reveal the prejudices regarding her family, her drunken father, and the lasting impact of hurtful words. Salazar weaves raw emotion through the ups and downs of Zora’s determination, heartbreak, and self-doubt as hopes and dreams lead her from the grey skies of Seattle to sunny California.
Like a movie star’s fur stole, the Hollywood Glamour Exhibition wraps the novel in glittering mystery. On opening night, the mannequins’ faces and delicate costumes swirl elegantly into place as the perfectly fitting answer to “Who is Zora Lily?” is unveiled.