Whisper of the Moon Moth

Written by Lindsay Jayne Ashford
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

Whisper of the Moon Moth is an enchanting tale of a starlet’s rise to fame in Hollywood from humble and obscure beginnings, all while protecting a secret that could threaten to destroy her career.

Born Estelle Thompson in 1911 in India to an Indian mother and white father, she wanted nothing more than to become an actress. A chance meeting and brief love affair with a man provided her an opportunity to come to America. Despite a betrayal, Estelle found her way in Hollywood, but with one caveat: she needed to reinvent herself to hide her Indian origins, lest she be denied leading roles reserved for Caucasian women. The world knew this woman as Merle Oberon, who played Cathy in Wuthering Heights. Many more films would follow, but Oberon never revealed her Indian heritage, at great cost.

Reading the book is like getting a backstage pass to a movie set. The behind-the-scenes stories of her tumultuous love affairs with such leading men as David Niven and marriage to director Alexander Korda are utterly absorbing, as is her great rivalry with another famous actress. Merle is tormented by the sacrifices she makes on her rise to fame. The author paints an authentic picture of a passionate, flawed, but winsome woman who is plagued by guilt and fear.

Though the story is based on the real Merle Oberon’s life, the author acknowledges that she speculated about many of the details, but the book plays out much as a good movie would—with an intriguing plot, resolution of conflict, and growth of characters.