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The epic tale of a brilliant woman who must reinvent herself to survive, moving from Mussolini's Italy to 1940s Los Angeles Like many before her, Maria Lagana has come to Hollywood to outrun her past. Born in Rome, where every Sunday her father took her to the cinema instead of church, Maria immigrates with her mother to Los Angeles after a childhood transgression leads to The epic tale of a brilliant woman who must reinvent herself to survive, moving from Mussolini's Italy to 1940s Los Angeles Like many before her, Maria Lagana has come to Hollywood to outrun her past. Born in Rome, where every Sunday her father took her to the cinema instead of church, Maria immigrates with her mother to Los Angeles after a childhood transgression leads to her father's arrest. Fifteen years later, on the eve of America's entry into World War II, Maria is an associate producer at Mercury Pictures, trying to keep her personal and professional lives from falling apart. Her mother won't speak to her. Her boss, a man of many toupees, has been summoned to Washington by congressional investigators. Her boyfriend, a virtuoso Chinese-American actor, can't escape the studio's narrow typecasting. And the studio itself, Maria's only home in exile, teeters on the verge of bankruptcy. Over the coming months, as the bright lights go dark across Los Angeles, Mercury Pictures becomes a nexus of European émigrés: modernist poets trying their luck as B-movie screenwriters, once-celebrated architects becoming scale-model miniaturists, and refugee actors finding work playing the very villains they fled. While the world descends into war, Maria rises through a maze of conflicting politics, divided loyalties, and jockeying ambitions. But when the arrival of a stranger from her father's past threatens Maria's carefully constructed facade, she must finally confront her father's fate--and her own. Written with intelligence, wit, and an exhilarating sense of possibility, Mercury Pictures Presents spans many moods and tones, from the heartbreaking to the ecstatic. It is a love letter to life's bit players, a panorama of an era that casts a long shadow over our own, and a tour de force.


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The epic tale of a brilliant woman who must reinvent herself to survive, moving from Mussolini's Italy to 1940s Los Angeles Like many before her, Maria Lagana has come to Hollywood to outrun her past. Born in Rome, where every Sunday her father took her to the cinema instead of church, Maria immigrates with her mother to Los Angeles after a childhood transgression leads to The epic tale of a brilliant woman who must reinvent herself to survive, moving from Mussolini's Italy to 1940s Los Angeles Like many before her, Maria Lagana has come to Hollywood to outrun her past. Born in Rome, where every Sunday her father took her to the cinema instead of church, Maria immigrates with her mother to Los Angeles after a childhood transgression leads to her father's arrest. Fifteen years later, on the eve of America's entry into World War II, Maria is an associate producer at Mercury Pictures, trying to keep her personal and professional lives from falling apart. Her mother won't speak to her. Her boss, a man of many toupees, has been summoned to Washington by congressional investigators. Her boyfriend, a virtuoso Chinese-American actor, can't escape the studio's narrow typecasting. And the studio itself, Maria's only home in exile, teeters on the verge of bankruptcy. Over the coming months, as the bright lights go dark across Los Angeles, Mercury Pictures becomes a nexus of European émigrés: modernist poets trying their luck as B-movie screenwriters, once-celebrated architects becoming scale-model miniaturists, and refugee actors finding work playing the very villains they fled. While the world descends into war, Maria rises through a maze of conflicting politics, divided loyalties, and jockeying ambitions. But when the arrival of a stranger from her father's past threatens Maria's carefully constructed facade, she must finally confront her father's fate--and her own. Written with intelligence, wit, and an exhilarating sense of possibility, Mercury Pictures Presents spans many moods and tones, from the heartbreaking to the ecstatic. It is a love letter to life's bit players, a panorama of an era that casts a long shadow over our own, and a tour de force.

30 review for Mercury Pictures Presents

  1. 4 out of 5

    Angela M

    Marra’s first novel , A Constellation of Vital Phenomena focuses on the Chechen War with Russia and perhaps is more relevant at this point in time as it is reminiscent of the horrific treatment that the people of Ukraine are experiencing now. However, this novel is a story about a different war, which also captures the effect of war on the people who live or sometimes die through the circumstances of that war. It’s also from the unique perspective of Hollywood, which I don’t remember encounterin Marra’s first novel , A Constellation of Vital Phenomena focuses on the Chechen War with Russia and perhaps is more relevant at this point in time as it is reminiscent of the horrific treatment that the people of Ukraine are experiencing now. However, this novel is a story about a different war, which also captures the effect of war on the people who live or sometimes die through the circumstances of that war. It’s also from the unique perspective of Hollywood, which I don’t remember encountering in all of the WWII novels I’ve read. In the years just before WWII, Maria Lagana and her mother make it to the US from Rome after her father is arrested for anti fascist activities. In Hollywood, Maria stakes her claim to a job as assistant producer at a movie studio. Through Maria, we meet a cast of characters, several of whom are immigrants like her. Their lives as well as back stories serve to create plot lines which at times seem a bit all over the place. But, there is a cohesiveness here of emotional connection between the characters, that comes together. It’s with the backdrop of Hollywood, the “Enemy Alien” status of Maria, Eddie Lu, the Chinese actor she loves, Anna Weber, a German miniaturist, there are heartbreaking ramifications. While this is extremely sad for the most part, I wasn’t expecting it to be as funny as it was at times with some larger than life characters. So much relevance. This is a story of how war impacts the lives of people caught in the time and place. I can’t say that I loved it as much as A Constellation of Vital Phenomena or Marra’s story collection, The Tsar of Love and Techno. However, this is certainly worth reading. It would make a terrific movie. I received an advanced copy of this book from Hogarth/Random House through NetGalley

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael Burke

    Reel People of the Real War “Mercury Pictures Presents” is a five star triumph. It is a rich and complex story, deep in characterization, yet there is no lagging, no time when you think exposition has created a slow detour. Everyday people populate the pages, people who have their hands full just dealing with the events the world is forcing on them. The Mercury Pictures movie studio is a second-tier Hollywood outfit struggling to get by in the years just before World War II. We open on an amazing Reel People of the Real War “Mercury Pictures Presents” is a five star triumph. It is a rich and complex story, deep in characterization, yet there is no lagging, no time when you think exposition has created a slow detour. Everyday people populate the pages, people who have their hands full just dealing with the events the world is forcing on them. The Mercury Pictures movie studio is a second-tier Hollywood outfit struggling to get by in the years just before World War II. We open on an amazing cast of characters from the studio head to the actors and the crew– mostly recent immigrants from Europe. These people have left their homes behind, loved ones and stories of regret only ever-present memories. Anthony Marra takes us back to their European roots and fills us in on the reasons which tore them away. There are very real ghosts carried to America–ghosts living or dead who echo the guilt of those who abandoned them. No matter that most departed because of fascist persecution, there is always someone left behind. Cutting back to America, there are punishments for the original sin of owning roots in countries on the wrong side of the war’s breakout. Italians, Germans, Asians of all nationalities are treated with suspicion and are subjected to restrictions on travel and employment. It is time to stay in the shadows. The hard times here are tempered with a wealth of humor. The wise-cracking studio founder, Artie Feldman, is a character the Coen brothers could do wonders with. He has six toupees mounted on mannequins in his office, each a larger size than the previous one, each with a different name and personality. His assistant, Maria Lagana, is the unrecognized and underappreciated strategist keeping things afloat. She lives with her colorful old world great-aunts who are hysterical in their eccentricities. An example is the description of their reverence of patron saints. The saints are each represented by a small figurine the aunts pray to when something is needed. If the prayers seem unanswered or slow in fulfillment, little hints will show up– perhaps a threatening hammer will be left casually beside the figure as incentive. On the flip side, this is a time of war and there are frightening reminders of the horrible mindset we are dealing with. The armed forces went to a great deal of trouble designing and testing a bombing pattern which could efficiently suck firestorms through heavily populated civilian areas. Hollywood’s talent lent their skills to designing actual scale reproductions of Berlin neighborhoods. The goal was mass destruction, the maximum body count. We are reminded that during low-altitude bombing runs over Japanese and German cities our pilots wore insectile oxygen masks to avoid passing out from the smell of burning human flesh. And these are the good guys. The World War II era comes alive in this novel, not just the fighting itself, but the blanket effect it had on everyone. Marra’s perceptive portrayal of everyday characters draws us into the lives of people struggling to find a foothold in a world which has collapsed on itself. Initially I thought this would make a great movie– but I doubt a film could do it justice and I will be content to keep a hold on these characters through these pages. Hmmm… maybe the Coen brothers… Thank you Random House Publishing Group, Hogarth Books, and NetGalley for the advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review. #MercuryPicturesPresents #NetGalley.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I adore Marra and his masterfully skilled writing. It’s the 1940’s. Immigrants have arrived to LA from pre war Europe. Movies become the propaganda for the war. At the centre, the story of Maria. An immigrant herself from Italy. Her reflection on a disastrous mistake haunting her through life. The characters are brilliant. A miniaturist; a man of toupees; a photographer who takes the persona of another. The story is humorous and sobering as the European war begins to rage. The racism and sexism sur I adore Marra and his masterfully skilled writing. It’s the 1940’s. Immigrants have arrived to LA from pre war Europe. Movies become the propaganda for the war. At the centre, the story of Maria. An immigrant herself from Italy. Her reflection on a disastrous mistake haunting her through life. The characters are brilliant. A miniaturist; a man of toupees; a photographer who takes the persona of another. The story is humorous and sobering as the European war begins to rage. The racism and sexism surrounding these emigrants and the ridicule they faced. Shameful. A bit long and the stories were a bit messy but did upright themselves. My favourite will remain A Constellation of Vital Phenomena 4⭐️

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paromjit

    Anthony Marra weaves a magical and spellbinding piece of historical fiction set in the 1940s era of the movie business in Los Angeles and the rise of fascism and WW2 in Europe. The beauty, wit and lyricism of his prose shines as he atmospherically evokes a group of European emigres, exiles employed by Mercury Pictures, run by the man of many toupees, Artie Feldman, and his able assistant, the ambitious Maria Lagana. Maria has escaped Mussolini's Italy with her mother, her anti-fascist, defense l Anthony Marra weaves a magical and spellbinding piece of historical fiction set in the 1940s era of the movie business in Los Angeles and the rise of fascism and WW2 in Europe. The beauty, wit and lyricism of his prose shines as he atmospherically evokes a group of European emigres, exiles employed by Mercury Pictures, run by the man of many toupees, Artie Feldman, and his able assistant, the ambitious Maria Lagana. Maria has escaped Mussolini's Italy with her mother, her anti-fascist, defense lawyer father, Giuseppe, left behind facing political internment in San Lorenzo in circumstances that leave Maria bearing a burden of shameful guilt for which she refuses to accept any form of forgiveness. She and her mother live with her unforgettable great-aunts, the widows Mimi, Lala and Pep Moriburo, for whom love, a venereal disease of the heart, is curable through marriage. With Mercury Pictures under financial pressures, Artie has been summoned to face the Senate investigation, accompanied by the ever reliable Maria. Maria is in love with a Chinese American actor, Eddie Lu, condemned to playing stereotypes that bring him real life dangers. A glimpse of Germany in the inter-war years is provided by the miniaturist Anna Weber, devastated by the loss of her son, Kurt, when her Nazi husband is given custody. In San Lorenzo, portrait photographer, Nino Picone, escapes, arriving in LA with a stolen identity. With Pearl Harbour and the American entry into WW2, the fortunes of Mercury Pictures change dramatically as they make morale boosting war propaganda, but the emigres are designated enemy aliens, made to feel unworthy and unwanted. Anna heads to Utah, with her miniaturist talents being utilised by the American military. The characters lives intersect and connect as we learn of their pasts, present and sometimes their future. Marra captures this fascinating period of history with its culture, politics and economics, with his blend of fact and fiction, of a Hollywood revered for its ability to manipulate, create fantasies and fabricate narratives for a public all to willing to believe, a gift recognised by the American military in WW2 as they employ Mercury Pictures to create war fiction. The role played by European immigrants in the film industry is tenderly conveyed through the larger than life and vibrant, complex characters that Marra imagines and develops in his heartbreaking, poignant, and joyous storytelling that beguiles. It touches on sacrifice, imperfect love, loss, family, identity, belonging, guilt, ambition and resilience. This is a stellar read, a wondrous novel with oodles of humour that I did not want to end, and which I think will appeal to many readers. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    Mercury Pictures Presents is a different sort of historical fiction. Taking as its subject a B film movie studio, it introduces the reader to a wide range of characters. Foremost is Maria, an Italian emigre who has risen from secretary to associate producer. The story goes back and forth in time, back and forth across the Atlantic. We learn of her father, imprisoned by Mussolini, and the young man he befriends. The story takes its time introducing us to the other emigres who find themselves empl Mercury Pictures Presents is a different sort of historical fiction. Taking as its subject a B film movie studio, it introduces the reader to a wide range of characters. Foremost is Maria, an Italian emigre who has risen from secretary to associate producer. The story goes back and forth in time, back and forth across the Atlantic. We learn of her father, imprisoned by Mussolini, and the young man he befriends. The story takes its time introducing us to the other emigres who find themselves employed by Mercury Pictures. The plot meanders. At times it meanders too much and I really didn’t need every single character’s back story. The humor here ranges from the dry to the broad. But there’s also so much sadness. The focus is much more on the characters than on the story. The writing is expressive. Marra gets certain things. “His politics were prejudices in search of policies.” In fact, some of Marra’s best points concern prejudice and the bigots’ willingness to believe anything that bolsters their prejudices. “It wasn’t Odette’s easy slide into prejudice that unsettled Maria so much as the suspension of disbelief it suggested. It was as if reality took the crooked shape of the mind in which it was poured. What gave conspiracy the credibility that reasonable explanation lacked? What hunger for order, even diabolical order, did it satisfy?” This gave me my first glimpse into what was transpiring on the US West coast right after Pearl Harbor, not to mention how the film industry was used by the government. As the story goes on, at times there’s almost a hallucinatory quality to the story. Overall, this was a good mix of entertainment, historic fact and deeper themes. It made for a great audio experience. Carlotta Brentan was a very good narrator.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    It's been six years since publication of Anthony Marra's last book, and finally the wait is over. With Mercury Pictures Presents, he carries the themes and style he'd honed in his two earlier masterpieces, and has created another. I'd thought the WWII era had been so thoroughly milked that further reworking would be redundant, but Marra has breathed life into a story centered around the collection of emigres attracted to Los Angeles and their contribution not only to the movie industry, but to t It's been six years since publication of Anthony Marra's last book, and finally the wait is over. With Mercury Pictures Presents, he carries the themes and style he'd honed in his two earlier masterpieces, and has created another. I'd thought the WWII era had been so thoroughly milked that further reworking would be redundant, but Marra has breathed life into a story centered around the collection of emigres attracted to Los Angeles and their contribution not only to the movie industry, but to the cultural enhancement of the country as well. As with his earlier books, there is a large interlocking cast, but what he does so well is give life to even the participants occupying the smallest page count, like the bit players he is honoring. One of his strongest trademarks, the human connection, is a feature of all his plotlines. By playing the long game with his characters, he establishes threads that transcend time and distance against seemingly impossible odds, with satisfactory outcomes, not always expected or happy, but satisfactory nonetheless. I'm reluctant to provide any quotes since it would be hard to choose, but despite it being so early, this will be my favorite book of the year.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Ahh, this is hard to rate - my experience ranged from 2 to 5 stars. It is a fine mess of a novel, beautifully written with memorable characters. If only Marra hadn't felt the need to spend pages on every minor character. I wonder if he started this as linked short stories and then decided to combine it into one big overflowing stew. I resented it when he left Maria to present yet another sidekick's story. On the other hand, I loved parts of this book! And many strands did come together. Marra sa Ahh, this is hard to rate - my experience ranged from 2 to 5 stars. It is a fine mess of a novel, beautifully written with memorable characters. If only Marra hadn't felt the need to spend pages on every minor character. I wonder if he started this as linked short stories and then decided to combine it into one big overflowing stew. I resented it when he left Maria to present yet another sidekick's story. On the other hand, I loved parts of this book! And many strands did come together. Marra says so much about the impact of the war on a family, being a woman in the movie business, about being an Italian immigrant, about being Asian in Hollywood in the 1940s. It is studded with brilliance.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    Anthony Marra labors under the most benevolent curse that can befall a writer: When he was 28 years old, he published “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” an astonishingly great debut novel. Manipulating time and tone with hypnotic effect, sweeping from tragic to absurd with majestic ease, Marra told the stories of folks caught in a war-torn Chechen village. “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” won the inaugural John Leonard Prize for Best First Book from the National Book Critics Circle, and r Anthony Marra labors under the most benevolent curse that can befall a writer: When he was 28 years old, he published “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” an astonishingly great debut novel. Manipulating time and tone with hypnotic effect, sweeping from tragic to absurd with majestic ease, Marra told the stories of folks caught in a war-torn Chechen village. “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” won the inaugural John Leonard Prize for Best First Book from the National Book Critics Circle, and raves piled up around the novel like ticker tape. Now, almost a decade later, Marra has published his second novel, a story set before and during World War II called “Mercury Pictures Presents.” The author’s fans, who include former president Barack Obama, will recognize his elegant resolution of tangled disasters, his heartbreaking poignancy, his eye for historical curiosities that exceed the parameters of fiction. But the emotional range here is narrower, the record of human cruelty more subtle. And if “Mercury Pictures Presents” doesn’t generate the impact of “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” well, that’s an impossibly high standard. . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/books/...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Not going to rate it --- I ended up skipping -skimming -- and although Anthony Marra is a skillful writer -- I just couldn't stay interested. Not going to rate it --- I ended up skipping -skimming -- and although Anthony Marra is a skillful writer -- I just couldn't stay interested.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Devastatingly good. Haunting one moment, hilarious the next. Hollywood and Italy in the years before and during the Second World War are brought vividly to life, and Anthony Marra has given us the studio executives, the Italian immigrants in La-La Land, and the actors -- one of whom will break your heart. I devoured this novel and, speaking as a novelist, Marra's prestigious talents gave me one hell of an inferiority complex. Devastatingly good. Haunting one moment, hilarious the next. Hollywood and Italy in the years before and during the Second World War are brought vividly to life, and Anthony Marra has given us the studio executives, the Italian immigrants in La-La Land, and the actors -- one of whom will break your heart. I devoured this novel and, speaking as a novelist, Marra's prestigious talents gave me one hell of an inferiority complex.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    I picked this book up because I recognized the author from earlier books. With the cover Mercuryt Pictures Presents, I thought it would be a story about the movie studio and the movie business. And it was to an extent. Regardless of what I expected (I should have read the blurb so I would have known - duh), the story was mostly about people who were cast together during World War II and their circumstances. Mostly about Maria Lagana, who left Italy during Mussolini's rule and her father's prison I picked this book up because I recognized the author from earlier books. With the cover Mercuryt Pictures Presents, I thought it would be a story about the movie studio and the movie business. And it was to an extent. Regardless of what I expected (I should have read the blurb so I would have known - duh), the story was mostly about people who were cast together during World War II and their circumstances. Mostly about Maria Lagana, who left Italy during Mussolini's rule and her father's prison interment, and came to Los Angeles with her mother. Maria has a huge amount of guilt for her actions that caused her father's arrest. My favorite parts of the book were Nico Piccone's story and Anna, the miniaturist's story. I'm seeing a lot of five-star reviews and I'm sure the critics will love this book. Unfortunately, I can only give it three. The writing is beautiful and lyrical and the stories of the people who worked at Mercury Pictures were interesting. However, mostly I was bored and wanted the book to end. There seemed to be a lot of unnecessary padding that to me, seemed irrelevant. Thanks to Random House, Hogarth through Netgalley for an advance copy. This book will be published on August 2, 2022.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cathrine ☯️

    2 😴 😴 I was wowed big time by Marra's previous novels. At 50% in I'm struggling to maintain interest in this one. So I phoned two friends for answers via their reviews and I quote: Angela's (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) ★★★★: "Their lives as well as back stories serve to create plot lines which at times seem a bit all over the place" Britany's (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) 2 ★★ "I think it was too much of a slog to get through. I wasn't excited to pick it back up" which gave 2 😴 😴 I was wowed big time by Marra's previous novels. At 50% in I'm struggling to maintain interest in this one. So I phoned two friends for answers via their reviews and I quote: Angela's (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) ★★★★: "Their lives as well as back stories serve to create plot lines which at times seem a bit all over the place" Britany's (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) 2 ★★ "I think it was too much of a slog to get through. I wasn't excited to pick it back up" which gave me the little push I needed to make the decision to return this to my beloved library where some other deserving patron can snap it up. I no longer have the patience with stories where authors whiplash me all over the place and cram in too many story-lines taking too long to come together in the end. No doubt many out there will tell me it's worth it when that end finally arrives, but I have too many book miles to go before I sleep and I'm weary of looking at the remaining page count. Thankful for my Goodreads friends❣️

  13. 4 out of 5

    Krista

    “Here, I have an idea.” In the lower right corner, under the Produced By credit, Artie crossed out the John in John Doe and wrote Jane. “Jane Doe. No one, and I mean no one, will have any doubt who Jane Doe really is. Satisfied?” Maria might have been had she not noticed the one non-anonymized name on the poster. It appeared right above the title, in small but legible cursive: Art Feldman and Mercury Pictures Presents … I’m going to go with: It’s not the book, it’s me. Mercury Pictures Presents h “Here, I have an idea.” In the lower right corner, under the Produced By credit, Artie crossed out the John in John Doe and wrote Jane. “Jane Doe. No one, and I mean no one, will have any doubt who Jane Doe really is. Satisfied?” Maria might have been had she not noticed the one non-anonymized name on the poster. It appeared right above the title, in small but legible cursive: Art Feldman and Mercury Pictures Presents … I’m going to go with: It’s not the book, it’s me. Mercury Pictures Presents has plenty of five star reviews, and I have raved about author Anthony Marra’s work before, but this time? I was kind of bored; unmoved by the writing and unsurprised by the plot and its details. I have zero interest in stories about Hollywood and moviemaking, and I feel like everything important that can be said about WWII in fiction was written by the people who lived through it, and although there was the potential for something interesting about Hollywood propaganda drumming up fascistic control over those “resident aliens” who had fled rising fascism in their birth countries, it didn’t much pay off for me. Marra draws some fine characters, gives them some snappy lines, puts them in singular circumstances, and none of it really touched me. I acknowledge this failure to connect is on me; another reader’s experience may be totally different. (Note: I read an ARC through NetGalley and passages quoted may not be in their final forms.) “People like you and me, Art? The sons of furriers and cobblers and glovers who’ve been in the business since the battles with the Edison Trust? We came out here to build ourselves a broken kingdom where only the broken prosper, and then, our children, they hold it against us when we make them whole.” Mercury Pictures is a small-time movie studio — owned and run by twin Jewish brothers who emigrated from Poland long before Hitler was a threat — and as America enters WWII, they hit it big with military training films and jingoistic agitprop created through their hastily assembled Propaganda Unit. The storyline of Mercury Pictures Presents follows the fortunes of this studio and the (mostly) immigrant artists who staff it. We see the fate of Italian antifascists who were sent into internal exile (confino) by Mussilini, unable to leave a certain radius within San Lorenzo. We then witness the fate of those antifascists who fled Italy or Germany ahead of WWII — forced to register as resident aliens when the US declared war on Europe, unable to travel beyond a two mile radius of their homes, subject to curfews and the confiscation of goods. We see expat German architects engaged to recreate Berlin in the Utah desert for the USAF to test incendiary bombs for use against the actual city (and this part may have been shocking if I hadn’t read about it recently in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Bomber Mafia). We see a Chinese-American actor reduced to playing a caricature of a bellicose Japanese bogeyman (and the racism that he provokes in the role is so successful that he finds himself in danger on the streets of L.A.) There’s a goldmine of irony in the idea of Hollywood (and its German- and Italian-born immigrant artists) manufacturing the face of an enemy for the country to set its sights on — even more irony in the eventual McCarthy Hearings trying to root out those Hollywood Communists who had been antifascists “too early” — but while the elements of something interesting were here, I simply didn’t find it terribly engaging. A taste of the snappy writing: • For years, Maria had devised strategies for smuggling the profane beneath the most sensitive censorial snouts. At her best, she passed more colorful bullshit than Babe the Blue Ox. • Annunziata knew the bribes were wasted, but when you’re desperate, every open pocket is a wishing well. • She was Rubenesque, and, like both painter and deli sandwich, irrefutable proof of Creation’s genius. And there were many grasps at meaning-making: A dark inkling deepens to certainty. This parched patch of Utah is indeed the farthest outpost of the Third Reich, alike in the immodesty of its vision and narrowness of its humanity. But I think that, overall, this experience just confirms my disinterest in WWII novels. This was a fresh angle (I didn’t know about the confino before), and Marra has a large and colourful cast of characters intersect in complex ways, but the story didn’t surprise or move me. And I so don’t care about Hollywood that the setting neither charmed or intrigued me. And as mine seems to be a minority opinion, no one should take my word on this one.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Britany

    Maria Lagana leaves Italy for LA to work for Mercury Pictures working her way up to being the right hand to Artie Feldman- one half of the brother duo that owns the studio. It's 1940's in Europe and the war is looming. Marra does a crafty job of creating characters that you want to root for, ones you want to hate, and ones that are deeply flawed. The characters slowly interact with each other, all of which end up connecting in a loose way. This didn't quite work for me. It's hard to explain exact Maria Lagana leaves Italy for LA to work for Mercury Pictures working her way up to being the right hand to Artie Feldman- one half of the brother duo that owns the studio. It's 1940's in Europe and the war is looming. Marra does a crafty job of creating characters that you want to root for, ones you want to hate, and ones that are deeply flawed. The characters slowly interact with each other, all of which end up connecting in a loose way. This didn't quite work for me. It's hard to explain exactly why, but I think it was too much of a slog to get through. I wasn't excited to pick it back up, I quickly discovered while I loved Maria's story, I was frustrated and downright bored by some of the other sections. I think there was too much shoved in the middle to get me from start to finish on what this author was trying to convey here. I do have some of his other books on my physical shelves and do plan to give them a try. I loved the sections with Anna and the miniatures and the storyline with Nino and his passport collection. The small moments are really what wins in this book. Thank You to Netgalley and Hogarth for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Mercury Pictures Presents is a work of historical fiction set in the Italy of rising fascism between the wars. Then the action shifts to California in the late 1930s, more specifically Hollywood and the titular studio which is to become home to many in the flight from Hitler and Mussolini. While we are inside the sometimes manic everyday studio operations led by Artie Feldman, we are even closer to Maria Lagana who has traveled from a village in Italy to Hollywood with hopes, sorrows, delayed dr Mercury Pictures Presents is a work of historical fiction set in the Italy of rising fascism between the wars. Then the action shifts to California in the late 1930s, more specifically Hollywood and the titular studio which is to become home to many in the flight from Hitler and Mussolini. While we are inside the sometimes manic everyday studio operations led by Artie Feldman, we are even closer to Maria Lagana who has traveled from a village in Italy to Hollywood with hopes, sorrows, delayed dreams, and lots of intelligence. The concept of “other” carries through this novel. As war approaches in the States, there are good and bad, or enemy, aliens. Many of those who escaped from Europe and found a place in Hollywood and elsewhere are now looked at differently. Even before the war’s start, some groups aren’t really acceptable except for the B grade movies. Marra’s characters are wonderfully drawn. I felt for them. They come from around the world and end up in Los Angeles, but more specifically Hollywood. Some become new people before they arrive, others after they meet new employers and realize what is wanted or needed. Even now, a few days after I finished reading, I can see some of these people in my mind’s eye: one at her desk or with Artie, another always with his camera, still another working on the miniatures, and last, a man I came to really like talking with Bela Lugosi about life in Hollywood. I recommend this book to everyone. Have patience with the changes of points of view. It will all make sense in the end. People traveling through… 4.5 rounded to 5* A copy of this book was provided by Hogarth/Random House through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sonja Arlow

    4 ½ stars This is one of my FAVORITE authors for many reasons. All his books have moments that take your breath away. Be it the writing, the dark humor or his keen observations on human nature. His writing is always a feast to experience. All these elements were present in his latest book about the film industry during WW2. The story highlights the absurdity of war through a constellation of connected characters. I did miss the Russian setting from his previous books just a tiny bit and had I not h 4 ½ stars This is one of my FAVORITE authors for many reasons. All his books have moments that take your breath away. Be it the writing, the dark humor or his keen observations on human nature. His writing is always a feast to experience. All these elements were present in his latest book about the film industry during WW2. The story highlights the absurdity of war through a constellation of connected characters. I did miss the Russian setting from his previous books just a tiny bit and had I not has so much work pressure I would have read this faster. Highly recommended.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Esther

    I received this book from Net Galley, in exchange for an honest review. I have been carefully avoiding the recent rash of WWII novels but I couldn't resist Anthony Marra and was very glad I hadn't. The story is set against a background of WWII, partly in a labour camp for dissidents in Italy but mostly among the foreign nationals and immigrants, mostly refugees from Europe, working at a Hollywood studio. Italy under Il Duce becomes an impossible place to live when Maria’s father is sent to the diss I received this book from Net Galley, in exchange for an honest review. I have been carefully avoiding the recent rash of WWII novels but I couldn't resist Anthony Marra and was very glad I hadn't. The story is set against a background of WWII, partly in a labour camp for dissidents in Italy but mostly among the foreign nationals and immigrants, mostly refugees from Europe, working at a Hollywood studio. Italy under Il Duce becomes an impossible place to live when Maria’s father is sent to the dissident camp so her mother packs their bags and they immigrate to live with family in California. As an adult Maria works for a film studio where she meets many European refugees trying to sell their skills to make a living while suffering discrimination and often under suspicion as ‘enemy aliens’. Marra captures the false glamour and double-dealing of the Hollywood producers with a humor that does not belie the precarious political situation. He deals with the range of bigotry and discrimination experienced by the diverse cast of characters encountered in the studio and educates without preaching, developing in the reader a deep-feeling concern for his characters’ fates. The story develops slowly and there isn't a lot of plot but the author's wonderful descriptions bring this world to life. His characters are treated lovingly, they are flawed but caring – the villains are off-stage – and, despite conflicting emotions, try to help one another. Not everyone has a happy conclusion but alongside the sadness you are left with a connection to and understanding of these people. Highly recommended.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tania

    4.5 stars. Anthony Marra is my best-loved author, something I don't say lightly. His debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, is flawless. This means that I had extremely high expectations for Mercury Pictures Presents, and although I thought the story was written in a lighter tone than his previous two books, his writing is still exquisite - moving seamlessly from tragedy to comedy in one paragraph, this author has the ability to break your heart with the lightest touch. The novel tells 4.5 stars. Anthony Marra is my best-loved author, something I don't say lightly. His debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, is flawless. This means that I had extremely high expectations for Mercury Pictures Presents, and although I thought the story was written in a lighter tone than his previous two books, his writing is still exquisite - moving seamlessly from tragedy to comedy in one paragraph, this author has the ability to break your heart with the lightest touch. The novel tells the story of characters whose lives are connected by a World War II-era Hollywood studio, and I really enjoyed getting to know them all. It was also interesting to read that Artie and Ned Feldman were based on Jack and Harry Warner.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I loved this book. I loved the clever wit, how I laughed out loud. I loved the characters, warm and real, flawed, and memorable. This is genius writing, a sweeping historical novel that tackles big social and political issues, incorporating hard truths, and yet left me uplifted and hopeful. Set in 1940s Hollywood, soon peopled with refugees from fascist Europe, it is the story of Maria whose socialist father was sentenced to internal exile in Mussolini’s Italy. She and her mother immigrated to Am I loved this book. I loved the clever wit, how I laughed out loud. I loved the characters, warm and real, flawed, and memorable. This is genius writing, a sweeping historical novel that tackles big social and political issues, incorporating hard truths, and yet left me uplifted and hopeful. Set in 1940s Hollywood, soon peopled with refugees from fascist Europe, it is the story of Maria whose socialist father was sentenced to internal exile in Mussolini’s Italy. She and her mother immigrated to America, and now she is associate producer at Mercury Pictures, underpaid and uncredited. Her boss Mercury studio founder Artie Feldman names his toupees and is mired in a never-ending battle over studio control with his twin brother. Maria loves a Chinese American, but miscegenation laws force them to keep their relationship under wraps. Her father, in exile, had saved the life of a young man, Nino, whose mother takes him in. He helps the boy with an education. Nino escapes Italy using a false identity, and years later he seeks out Maria to tell her what had happened to her father. You could map the march of fascism across Europe base on Mercury’s employment rolls. from Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra It turns out that 1940s Hollywood is the perfect venue to look at a multitude of historical realities. Fear of Japanese invasion. The censorship and the Red scare. The America First movement. Racism and the treatment of ‘resident aliens’. Underpaid, invisible women. Tearing down Chinatown to build the train station. Unemployed Bela Lugosi impersonating himself. Actors unable to play their own ethnicity, Maria’s Chinese lover forced to play evil Japanese soldiers. It’s a crazy world, and yet perfectly historic, and unfortunately too recognizable. In Italy, the antifascists are arrested for crimes they didn’t commit, and here? Here they’re arrested for crimes they’re the victims of. from Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra I rooted for the underdog characters, Maria secretly filming a movie starring her Chinese lover as–shocking!–a Chinese man. Artie, perfectly imperfect, standing up to his cold-hearted brother’s takeover of the studio. Nino, who escaped Italy under the assumed identity of a dead man, needing to make amends to the dead man’s mother. The architect whose Nazi German son is at risk of death from the very weapons being tested on her fake desert Berlin city. The vibrant, colorful people who populate the book snatch your heart. I can’t wait to recommend this book to my book club so I can read it again. I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Holly R W

    "Mercury Pictures Presents" is a sprawling historical novel focusing on Italy and the U.S. right before and during World War II. The time frame is 1938 - 1946. In the beginning of the story, we are introduced to Guiseppe Lagana, his wife Annunziata and their 12 year old daughter, Maria. Guiseppe is a defense attorney living in Rome. He has sympathies towards those with Socialist views and defends several of his clients from political persecution. Mussolini has come into power at this time. Guise "Mercury Pictures Presents" is a sprawling historical novel focusing on Italy and the U.S. right before and during World War II. The time frame is 1938 - 1946. In the beginning of the story, we are introduced to Guiseppe Lagana, his wife Annunziata and their 12 year old daughter, Maria. Guiseppe is a defense attorney living in Rome. He has sympathies towards those with Socialist views and defends several of his clients from political persecution. Mussolini has come into power at this time. Guiseppe's work (and a well intentioned mistake by Maria) leads to his becoming a political prisoner in a remote town (the fictitious San Lorenzo). Maria loves her dad dearly and is only able to see him there once, before she emigrates with her mother to Los Angeles, California. The book spends a fair amount of time describing Guiseppe's life as a political prisoner in San Lorenzo and the people he comes into contact with. I found these characters and their story lines to be among the most interesting of the entire book. Guiseppe has a lot of integrity. He tutors his landlady's son (Nino) in exchange for the rent he owes her. Guiseppe and Nino forge a father-son relationship. Nino becomes a photographer and through complicated circumstances, is forced to emigrate to the United States, where he eventually meets up with Maria, Guiseppe's daughter. Throughout this time, Maria and her father have been able to write letters to each other, but the letters are heavily censored and cut up by Guiseppes's captors. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Maria has grown up to become an administrative assistant to Artie Feldman, co-owner of a movie production company called "Mercury Pictures". The studio specializes in making B grade movies. As events of World War II gear up, the U.S. War Department contracts with Mercury Pictures to film propaganda movies promoting the nation's involvement in the war. The author's sense of humor lightens the heavy subject matter and makes the antics in Hollywood more fun to read about. Still, both Maria and Artie come across as 'cold fish'. All told, there are about twenty characters in the novel, each one connected in some way. An interesting figure is Anna Weber, who has emigrated from Berlin, Germany and is the studio's miniaturist. Anna purposely left Germany before the war started, due to its politics. "German was the language Anna thought, counted, dreamed, prayed, and cursed in; it was lovely to remember that it could be beautiful, even if she knew Germany too well to ever speak German beautifully again." Later, she helped the U.S. military in its war effort against Germany. My Impressions - This is quite an ambitious book. Many historic events are looked at, including: the Depression, birth of Hollywood and the movie industry, European immigration to the U.S., German occupation in Europe, World War II and Pearl Harbor. There are interlinked story lines of at least 20 characters. The book's length is a healthy 416 pages. Sometimes though, 'less is more'. For me, the book would have been better if some of the more minor story lines had been cut. I loved the first half of the book and thought it worthy of 5 stars. My enthusiasm waned as the book got lengthier and more involved. The book ended on a stronger note with its epilogue. The epilogue provided a satisfying closure to the novel; I enjoyed how it tied up loose threads about the more major characters and explained where they were in their lives. And Maria had evolved by then to have more warmth and charm. Additional: Near where I live, we have a historic part of the city known as "Little Italy," located on Mayfield Road. It was mentioned in the book. Nino traveled through here on his way to L.A.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    This is (for me!) going to be high up on my list for best book of 2022 – I thought it was a masterful work of fiction. Set in Italy and Los Angeles, it is, at its base, the story of Italian immigrants and Hollywood, just before and during WWII. One of the main characters is Maria, a young Italian woman, who inadvertently discloses her father’s anti-fascist beliefs, which causes his imprisonment. Maria and her mother emigrate to the United States, where Maria becomes the employee of the other mai This is (for me!) going to be high up on my list for best book of 2022 – I thought it was a masterful work of fiction. Set in Italy and Los Angeles, it is, at its base, the story of Italian immigrants and Hollywood, just before and during WWII. One of the main characters is Maria, a young Italian woman, who inadvertently discloses her father’s anti-fascist beliefs, which causes his imprisonment. Maria and her mother emigrate to the United States, where Maria becomes the employee of the other main character, Artie. Artie is half owner and head of production of Mercury Pictures, a lower budget/secondary movie production company in Hollywood. Swirling around these two are many wonderfully drawn characters – including a friend of Maria’s father, a German miniaturist (who knew about the use of miniatures in Hollywood?), a Chinese-American actor (who can only get cast to play the role of “evil Japs”), Artie’s straight laced brother, and Maria’s (hilarious) aunts. There are several underlying themes, including recognition of the many levels of “make believe” in Hollywood. (I did not know that during WWII the US government (through Hollywood) produced its own propaganda films.) The other large underlying theme is the plight of European immigrants – Italian and German - who escaped fascism to come to the freedom offered by the United States. The bias and legal restrictions to which they were subject (as enemy aliens in the US) were difficult and unexpected (for them), to say the least. I felt that photography itself was a frequently recurring and extremely well done theme – from passport photos torn in half (so that the other half could be sent back home to Italy when the person arrived safely in the US), to Hollywood movies and war filming. What makes this novel different from Marra’s previous work is that there is humor – and lots of it! Of course humor is often juxtaposed with tragedy….. But most importantly, the writing is sublime. In know there have been mixed reviews of this novel, and I both respect and understand that (there are a lot of story lines). However, for me, this book provided just about everything I could hope for in a novel.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie G.

    Well that was freaking stupendous. I laughed, I cried, I marveled at the illustration of man's inhumanity to man. No really, no shade, all those things happened as I read this gorgeous book. And speaking of gorgeous, the prose! Brilliant line after brilliant line. I don't want to say too much about the plot, come at it blind and delight in its sharp humor and bracing wisdom. It is not all fun and games though, this is a story that perhaps most importantly shines a light on propaganda and on art ( Well that was freaking stupendous. I laughed, I cried, I marveled at the illustration of man's inhumanity to man. No really, no shade, all those things happened as I read this gorgeous book. And speaking of gorgeous, the prose! Brilliant line after brilliant line. I don't want to say too much about the plot, come at it blind and delight in its sharp humor and bracing wisdom. It is not all fun and games though, this is a story that perhaps most importantly shines a light on propaganda and on art (which are not diametrically opposing forces.) There is a scene where Maria is watching Triumph of the Will, dissecting Riefenstahl's methods, that is both insightful as hell and also funny. (The image of Maria speeding up the movie , turning off the sound and playing polka music behind it is so evocative.) There are similar scenes that focus on the battle footage, and why reenactments are realer than actual footage that were broadening and meaningful. The book showed me that I have a lot of blind spots about America because I bought into the propaganda perpetuated by educational materials and films and television. You think Germany was the only country that was ruled by a master race philosophy? Uh, no. That it taught me this lesson while making me literally laugh out loud, a lot, is the icing on the cake. There is also a beautiful love story that illustrates how master race theory breaks people down, even people who come from an attitude of joy and how love most certainly does not conquer that force. I should mention that this in not all grand ideas. These are wonderful characters. Marra loves these people, that is clear in every sentence, and as I reader I understood why he loved them. People are ultimately pretty darn lovable, even the not so great ones. Marra's love of these characters leads me to my one complaint (it did not cost a full star but it is not nothing either.) This book sprawls a bit too much. The action in Hollywood and the action in Italy did not fully come together. There were so many characters that it got confusing. If I were Mara I would have cut a couple of minor digressions. The storyline about a miniaturist/architect named Anna seemed a bit tacked on to me and I thought her story would have been more impactful if it had been shaved down a good deal. There is a story about a detective in Italy who is guided by his love of Sherlock Holmes and of his cat that was funny and independently delightful but not essential and its inclusion made the Italy scenes more convoluted and less effective. I would not have minded the digressions, as mentioned they are well-written and entertaining, but they did not merit all the space and detail they got and their inclusion made the story a little too circuitous. Again though, its a minor quibble. I truly enjoyed this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)

    A hundred pages in, I am bailing on my most-anticipated novel of 2022, by one of my very most favorite writers. The jumble of a story just didn’t engage me, and whereas the humor and the pathos in A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon blended together in such a powerful way, here the jokes were irritating, and the main characters and the innumerable strands of the plot left me cold. Alas, Anthony Marra beat the second-book-syndrome, but not the third-book one.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    Before reading Mercury Pictures Presents, I wondered if Anthony Marra could successfully move from the late 1900s and early 2000s back to the early 1940s, and from wartime Chechnya to wartime Hollywood and Italy. Would Marra lose any of his sardonic humor, his quick yet distinctive character sketches, his narrative loop-de-loops that leave readers wondering if they’ve lost track of the plot, only to soon realize that Marra has subtly moved the plot forward? Would Marra’s otherworldly and often b Before reading Mercury Pictures Presents, I wondered if Anthony Marra could successfully move from the late 1900s and early 2000s back to the early 1940s, and from wartime Chechnya to wartime Hollywood and Italy. Would Marra lose any of his sardonic humor, his quick yet distinctive character sketches, his narrative loop-de-loops that leave readers wondering if they’ve lost track of the plot, only to soon realize that Marra has subtly moved the plot forward? Would Marra’s otherworldly and often brutal scenes of wartime societal disintegration translate to the Second World War American home front and wartime Italy? The answers are resoundingly yes to all. Marra brings the strengths of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and The Tsar of Love and Techno to Mercury Pictures Presents. The recent Eastern European history of Marra’s earlier books has been supplanted in Mercury Pictures Presents by Poverty Row Hollywood with its “B” movies inevitably slated for the bottom of Saturday afternoon double-bills. All of Marra’s books can be read as historical fiction, but the link between fiction and history is perhaps closest in Mercury Pictures Presents. Marra holds a firm grasp on the nativist fervor that descended upon Washington, D.C. and invaded Hollywood; on the anti-immigrant waves that bowled over daily life for native- and foreign-born Americans of Asian, German, and Italian descent, with no discernment of politics and little of ethnicity; the terrors of being a Black man, with no cease for armed service members; and the randomness of émigré admission to the US, with desperate people fleeing the Nazis only to be rejected and sent to their deaths in concentration camps. Marra sneaks into his fiction usually unlikely and unexpected humor. In Mercury Pictures Presents, it’s the pure borscht belt repartee between Artie Feldman, the co-founder and director of production of Mercury Pictures, and Maria Lagana, his underpaid and exploited Girl Friday: ”’How’m I looking?’ [Artie asks Maria] The truth was that Artie exceeded his protégé’s talent for euphemism. ‘You don’t look a day over twenty-five,’ she said. This elicited a rare grin from Artie. As a master bullshitter, he encouraged his apprentice’s efforts. Despite her sex and ethnicity, he knew Maria was, at heart, a Feldman Brother through and through. ‘I pay them to lie,’ Artie said, nodding in the direction of the accounting department. ‘I pay you to be honest.’ ‘Then you should pay me more.’”. Discussing Artie’s forthcoming testimony before a nativist congressional investigating committee, Maria volunteers: ”’Listen, how about I come with you to Washington?,’ she suggested. ‘We’ll prepare your opening statement on the flight in.’ ‘You really want to watch me get fed to the lions?’ ‘I’m from Rome. My people invented the sport’” Like Philip Roth’s classic The Plot Against America, Anthony Marra’s Mercury Pictures Presents is an explicitly political novel that reminds us of the fault lines running through American society and correcting images of America’s mythic and heroic past. Perhaps heroic for some, but not for America’s immigrants and racial and ethnic minorities. Mercury Pictures Presents will stand as a classic novel of the run-up and early years of World War Two in America. I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House for providing me with access to an ARC of this five star novel.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Gave up after 65 pages. SUCH a shame, as I adored Marra's two previous works (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and The Tsar of Love and Techno, but I wasn't connecting to the characters or setting at all. Something about it felt too familiar, also; I kept trying to think what it was reminding me of. (Maybe Mr Wilder & Me by Jonathan Coe?) I felt vindicated when I later read this Kirkus review. Gave up after 65 pages. SUCH a shame, as I adored Marra's two previous works (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and The Tsar of Love and Techno, but I wasn't connecting to the characters or setting at all. Something about it felt too familiar, also; I kept trying to think what it was reminding me of. (Maybe Mr Wilder & Me by Jonathan Coe?) I felt vindicated when I later read this Kirkus review.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Angie

    Anthony Marra writes simply stunning sentences--fresh, funny, beautiful. That would be enough to elevate him to one of my favorite writers. But his sentences are also in service of moving stories of human connection. Mercury Pictures Presents follows various people connected with a struggling movie studio during World War II. Shifting from their usual fare, the studio is enlisted in helping to film propoganda. It also becomes home to a group of outsiders--a female producer searching for a bigger Anthony Marra writes simply stunning sentences--fresh, funny, beautiful. That would be enough to elevate him to one of my favorite writers. But his sentences are also in service of moving stories of human connection. Mercury Pictures Presents follows various people connected with a struggling movie studio during World War II. Shifting from their usual fare, the studio is enlisted in helping to film propoganda. It also becomes home to a group of outsiders--a female producer searching for a bigger role and recognition in a macho world, emigres who face scorn and sidelining due to their ethnicities in a time of war, an actor struggling against stereotypes, an immigrant who takes on a new identity and an extraordinary amount of guilt. All of these stories weave together in sometimes surprising and moving ways.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joy D

    Sweeping story that takes the reader from Italy to Hollywood in the 1940s, while exploring the many ways immigrants were penalized during WWII due to xenophobia. It begins in Italy where protagonist Maria Lagana is a young girl. Her father is a lawyer defending citizens against outlandish accusations brought by the fascist government. Due to Maria’s youthful error in judgment, her father is arrested and confined on an island. She and her mother emigrate to the US, where they live with her aunts. Sweeping story that takes the reader from Italy to Hollywood in the 1940s, while exploring the many ways immigrants were penalized during WWII due to xenophobia. It begins in Italy where protagonist Maria Lagana is a young girl. Her father is a lawyer defending citizens against outlandish accusations brought by the fascist government. Due to Maria’s youthful error in judgment, her father is arrested and confined on an island. She and her mother emigrate to the US, where they live with her aunts. She gets a job with Mercury Pictures, a second-tier film studio, and eventually ends up in a production role working with Artie Feldman, the studio head. We learn of her relationship with Chinese American actor Eddie Lu, friendship with an Italian immigrant with ties to her father, and a German emigree hired by the studio. Artie must travel to Washington DC to be questioned by the Senate Investigation into Motion Picture War Propaganda. Themes include the abuses of authoritarianism, the biases introduced through propaganda (and how readily it is believed), and how innocent people are harmed in the process. It is about human connections, figuring out one’s path in the face of systemic discrimination, and the power of forgiveness. Marra addresses these themes through a series of interrelated storylines. He inserts a good dose of humor along the way. There does not seem to be a main narrative arc. It is more a compilation of side stories that, taken together, form a picture of the social milieu of the time period. It is much different than other books I have read by Anthony Marra. It is certainly relevant to today’s world where so many people seem willing to accept disinformation as the “truth.” It is an enjoyable mix of historical storytelling, entertainment, and social commentary.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jody

    The language. The gorgeous language. it strips the flesh off and digs straight to the heart. This is a WWII story, an old Hollywood story, a tale of families real and created, torn apart and put back together. It chronicles movie-making artifice while telling something so real. I've never read a WWII novel set in Los Angeles before. It felt like a fresh new take on a subject that millions have written about. The book follows Maria Lagana and the people around her, from Italy to LA, from Germany The language. The gorgeous language. it strips the flesh off and digs straight to the heart. This is a WWII story, an old Hollywood story, a tale of families real and created, torn apart and put back together. It chronicles movie-making artifice while telling something so real. I've never read a WWII novel set in Los Angeles before. It felt like a fresh new take on a subject that millions have written about. The book follows Maria Lagana and the people around her, from Italy to LA, from Germany to the Utah desert, from before the war to after. This is a beautiful novel, full of ugly and beautiful things, to sink your teeth into and enjoy.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Fraser Simons

    Not remotely a womb-to-tomb story about Maria, a woman emigre from Italy at a young age, now grown, working at Mercury Pictures—this story I would say actually drives to the heart of the entire cast of characters. Maria, certainly most predominate for several reasons. A nexus point, or confluence, rather than Mercury Pictures itself. From her axis, we delve into other immigrant stories and through them, touch on some uncomfortable truths about America and the film industry itself. As it function Not remotely a womb-to-tomb story about Maria, a woman emigre from Italy at a young age, now grown, working at Mercury Pictures—this story I would say actually drives to the heart of the entire cast of characters. Maria, certainly most predominate for several reasons. A nexus point, or confluence, rather than Mercury Pictures itself. From her axis, we delve into other immigrant stories and through them, touch on some uncomfortable truths about America and the film industry itself. As it functions, as it malfunctions, and what purpose and responsibility it ought to have. The prose work is stand-out work. It is a chameleon that changes its stripes for the entire cast, as the story often digresses into movie-like vignettes that bleed the characters on the page in short order. We return to the “present”, usually around 1942, and pick up a semblance of a plot, but not the stand-out quality of the fiction by any means. I had no idea where this was going any of the time pretty much and was loving every second. It’s about the people and their stories. But it is also about the way their story is told. The prose is absolutely evocative of cinema at the time and wholly, in a meta way, expressly uninterested in verisimilitude, but in telling a Hollywood story that has been coopted to portray the immigrant story in a way that feels ageless, empathetic, and more real than Real. Everything is buttoned up perfectly. There is the right amount of specificity to make you care about absolutely everything and everyone and even go into some minutia of movie magic, and politics, and interrogate the role of propaganda. There aren’t any easy answers. It’s often quotable because the characters are larger-than-life. Stories untold are told so well they spring off the page. And all the while with such control you never really know what the plot is until the knots get tied up. It doesn’t tell you to want to think of what to feel. It is just really great storytelling. I absolutely hope it gets nominated for awards because it is an award book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I read and liked Marra's powerful A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Thus, I was quite pleased to receive an advance copy of this, his latest book. BUT. I found this book numbing, looong, and boring. I was never engaged and could have walked away at any time, I persevered--without payoff. It could have/should have been more--I was sorely disappointed. The setting: Maria Lagana, leaves Mussolini's Italy to reinvent herself and s I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I read and liked Marra's powerful A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Thus, I was quite pleased to receive an advance copy of this, his latest book. BUT. I found this book numbing, looong, and boring. I was never engaged and could have walked away at any time, I persevered--without payoff. It could have/should have been more--I was sorely disappointed. The setting: Maria Lagana, leaves Mussolini's Italy to reinvent herself and survive. She moves to Los Angeles with her mother "...after a childhood transgression leads to her father's arrest. Fifteen years later, on the eve of America's entry into World War II, Maria is an associate producer at Mercury Pictures, trying to keep her personal and professional lives from falling apart ... Mercury Pictures becomes a nexus of European émigrés: modernist poets trying their luck as B-movie screenwriters, once-celebrated architects becoming scale-model miniaturists, and refugee actors finding work playing the very villains they fled. While the world descends into war, Maria rises through a maze of conflicting politics, divided loyalties, and jockeying ambitions. But when the arrival of a stranger from her father's past threatens Maria's carefully constructed facade, she must finally confront her father's fate--and her own." Melodramatic? Perhaps. But there's McCarthyism, fascism, racism, sexism, anti-foreigners [many emigres/refugees] populating 1940s Hollywood--all real. The many, many descriptions where Hollywood sets were built to mimic/stand in for battles/propaganda were interesting [as were some of the other Hollywood details], but... And, though many of the characters were well drawn {Maria, Artie, Ned, Vincent, Eddie [to name a few!], I wasn't invested in any of them.I enjoyed the multiple flashes of humor and often wonderful descriptions:"watching a pigeon autograph the windshield of her boss's new convertible""compact opulence of her build""Despite their love of cigarettes, physical inertia, and bootlegged grappa of questionalbe potabily, the great-aunts exuded immortality.""coniferous chill transmitted across thousands of miles" but the prose was not enough to sustain me. In the distinct minority of readers. This book did nothing for me. And ultimately, the ending too pat. flag 10 likes · Like  · see review View 1 comment « previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 … next »

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