Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Olympic Affair: A Novel of Hitler's Siren and America's Hero by Terry Frei

Olympic Affair: A Novel of Hitler's Siren and America's HeroLeni Riefenstahl, having become well known as a dancer and actress, moved into film making - quite a feat in the nineteen thirties for a woman. However her renown was more due to the documentaries she made for the Nazis prior to World War II, and the rumours surrounding her relationship with Hitler than her gender. On the other side of the Atlantic Glenn Morris is a young athlete who is due to complete at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He's a small town boy who finds himself in the spotlight as one of the favourites to win the decathlon. This book is a fictionalised account of how they meet and the affair she claimed towards the end of her life that the pair had.

I really enjoy historical fiction, and especially recent history and tales with a firm factual basis, so this was right up my street. As well as providing an account of the developing relationship between the two, and their individual endeavours to reach the top of their field, it provides a great picture of the international fears of the coming of a second world war and the build up to that in Germany. Seeing Berlin through the eyes of the visiting athletes who try and rationalise what they are encountering provided a nice spectrum of views of what was happening at the time. 

As far as the main protagonists go Leni isn't a particularly sympathetic character. She is a demanding task master who has a way of putting her own spin on events to cast herself in a positive light. She comes across as slightly delusional and I couldn't quite get a handle on how she really felt about the relationship, and whether she really saw it as anything more than a career move. Glenn on the other hand came across as a charming small town boy whose life changes dramatically, although not necessarily in the way he had envisioned. His relationship with Leni takes a toll and seems to affect the rest of his life - a life that was full of promise.

I found reading about his preparations for the Olympics and her career to that point very interesting and enjoyed the development of their affair and the less factual part. At points the narrative was a bit too matter of fact, with lists of how came where in what event with times or distances. It makes for interesting footnotes but in most cases didn't really add anything for me. However in this blend of fact and fiction it was more forgiveable than it might have been otherwise. As always I appreciated the authors note at the end that helped distinguish where the line between the two was. My one wish would have been for more about what happened to the pair in the longer term than the relatively brief summary of the rest of their lives. It seems that the brief period of time had a lifelong impact and I would have very happily read more. Other than that I thought this was a very good read.

Format: ARC, anticipated release date 16th December 2012
Publisher: Rowman and Littlefield
My Rating: 4*

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