The Only Woman in the Room

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 07 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

historical-figures, historical-novel 

Interesting historical novel with a political agenda. Too much novelization for my taste, and the stance that the ONLY reason for the rejection of the plans for the torpedo launching device was that she was female is nonsense. Try the additions that neither she nor her male design partner were military OR possessed of what would be viewed as the appropriate academic degrees (try Why is Science Still a Boys Club). And the odd portrayal of her biological Jewishness without her apparent knowledge is disturbing. I expected better and was disappointed. 
I requested and received a free ebook copy from SOURCEBOOKS Landmark via NetGalley.
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I received this from in exchange for a review. 

A good fictional representation of Hedy Lamarr.

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The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict is a bold story of a bold and heroic woman; a woman capable of greatness. As a very young woman she marries an older man who is very wealthy, he is involved in the war. At first he is romantic, sweeping her off her feet with flowers and romance until his dark side appears and Hedy realizes his true nature. After escaping her life and her country of Austria she sails to American and becomes, Hedy Lamarr, the beautiful and famous actress. But, acting or being famous is not her passion as she is quite an astute woman, Hedy is an inventor who works with a friend who work to advance communication technology to help the Navy in the war, along with other significant contributions in 1942. She is a marvel, I fell in love with this story, as I do with all ms. Benedict's books! Highly recommended! #sourcebooks # TheOnly WomanintheRoom
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Fictional biographies are fast becoming one of my favourite sub-genres, particularly when they’re about the under-valued achievements of women from history. I’m not sure if more of them are being released all of a sudden or if it’s just that I’m taking more notice of them, but either way, I am enjoying them a lot. Marie Benedict sums up in her author notes why I love these stories so much:

‘Faulty assumptions about women’s capabilities, stemming in part from the conscripted roles into which they’d been slotted, has caused many to think more narrowly about the manner in which the past has been shaped. But unless we begin to view historical women through a broader, more inclusive lens – and rewrite them back into the narrative – we will continue to view the past more restrictively than it likely was, and we risk carrying those perspectives over into the present.’

On that note, let’s turn our attention to the woman who is the focus of Marie Benedict’s latest novel, The Only Woman in the Room: Hedy Lamarr. Described by many biographers as the ‘most beautiful woman in the world’ Hedy was far more than a glamourous face. She was resourceful, brave, analytical and intelligent. Her talent for acting proved its worth off the stage on more than one occasion throughout her life, particularly while she was married to her first husband, Austrian arms dealer, Fritz Mandl. Married to Mandl at the age of nineteen, theirs was a relationship built from fear and obsession. Mandl’s powerful connections within Austria were well known and her family felt as though they had no choice but to agree to the marriage, foreseeing the possibility that Mandl may be able to provide protection if Hitler ever expanded his reign into Austria. Mandl appeared to be obsessed with Hedy’s beauty, and as his wife, she became ‘the only woman in the room’ on many occasions of highly secretive war talks. Mandl restrained Hedy, obsessively controlled her as much as possible and was often violent towards her: 

‘By imprisoning me, it seemed, he hoped to cage the rampant virus that was Hitler. I became the unspoken emblem of the evil within and without whenever he needed a place to vent his anger.’

He also underestimated her and by allowing her to be ‘the only woman in the room’ he gifted her with extensive knowledge about the Nazis and their plans for Europe’s Jews.  

‘The gravity of my crime had become clear. Could I have helped the European Jews if I’d made known that the Nuremberg Laws were not the limit of Hitler’s plans? I bore the blame for keeping this secret. My silence and selfishness had allowed the floodgates to open, but what was I going to do to make amends?’

The knowledge that Hedy came by through her marriage to Fritz became a heavy burden for her. While she was able to escape to Paris, then London, and finally to Hollywood, this knowledge plagued her and as the war in Europe escalated and word of the atrocities filtered over to the US to her, this burden manifested itself into guilt, which over time, propelled her to take action. Movie star by day, scientific inventor by night, Hedy, along with musician and composer George Antheil, invented a technology and went on to patent it, only to have it rejected by the military on account of it being invented by a woman. They instead suggested that she use her beauty to sell war bonds for the war effort – which she ended up doing and making more money for the war than anyone ever before her. But the frustration of this dismissal must have stung. She had especially not used the Hedy Lamarr name in order to avoid not being taken seriously, but in the end, she still wasn’t taken seriously.  

‘Hedy’s scientific legacy lives among us in ways she never could have envisioned – nor could anyone else in 1942 when she and George Antheil received their patent. By creating aspects of the foundation for current cell phones, her ideas are woven into the technological texture of nearly everyone’s lives and the fabric of modern society. But the events leading up to Hedy’s invention and the manner in which the military rejected its use in World War II – using instead her astonishing beauty to raise money for the war – leave another legacy, particularly when the military and its contractors later utilised her work without crediting her influence for decades. They are an important testament to the marginalisation of the contributions of historical women, both in their own time and beyond.’

Marie Benedict has used a lot of sources to piece together these parts of Hedy’s life, but of course, this is a fictional biography, so creative license is expected. Even taking this into account, I thoroughly enjoyed this portrayal of Hedy’s early adult years. There was a lot of plausibility embedded within the narrative. Hedy finally was given recognition for her scientific efforts in the 1990s, but if her invention had been implemented during WWII, one can’t help but ponder on how many lives might have been saved. This novel is fast paced and concise, it covers a lot of ground and time with minimal fuss and maximum action. In many ways, it is devoid of the usual descriptions of scene and incidentals, cutting right to the quick and giving you the facts without the frippery. Maybe this comes from the author being a lawyer. I enjoyed the style, the pace lending the narrative an urgency that matched the story. This is the third fictional biography Marie Benedict has written and I am keen to read the previous two. If they are anything like The Only Woman in the Room, I am certain I will enjoy them. 

Thanks is extended to Sourcebooks Landmark via NetGalley for providing me with a copy of The Only Woman in the Room for review. 

Review will be posted to my blog on 10th December 2018.
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Hedwig Kiesler was a fascinating woman who had she been born even 50 years later would probably have ended up a brilliant scientist.
Hedy Kiesler became Hedy Lamarr only after a marriage that was meant to help protect her and her family from rising antisemitism ended up being horribly controlling and manipulative.
I felt like Ms. Benedict did a good job of exploring how Hedwig became Hedy and how she tried to help change the world due to guilt she felt.  I don't want to say more as it would be spoiler-y.
I do think a little more delving into the family/children she had may have flushed out a bit of the ending that felt lacking to me.  
It was a good read that had me looking up more on Hedy and her patents.   
Thank you Netgalley for the ARC.
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I enjoyed this fascinating book about Hedy Lamarr. In all honesty, I had not heard of her prior to reading this book summary. This book was very well-written and engaging - I couldn't put it down! I enjoyed learning about Hedy, especially her life in Austria as the Nazi party was rising to power in Central Europe. Well done, Mrs. Benedict - I can't wait to pick up your prior novels!

Thank you, Sourcebooks Landmark for this advance reader copy!
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I was really excited for this but unfortunately it didn’t work for me. Something about the writing style, and that the novel was so short made it feel like something was missing. The storyline itself was well thought out though and I enjoyed the main character. 

Ultimately the story just didn’t work for me though.
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A fascinating historical fiction based on the life of actress Hedy Lamarr. Famed for her beauty, Hedy’s public persona hid a secret guilty past from which she would never escape and which dominated her life long efforts in seeking admonishment. Wow, what a read!
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What a fascinating book.  I was so happy to get the email saying the publisher had approved my request for a copy of this book from NetGalley, and I was delighted to jump into reading it.  Biographical fiction is a sub-genre I love, especially when it comes to famous figures I love, and I'm usually pretty critical when it comes to reviewing them, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Only Woman in the Room.  The story of Hedy Lamarr's life is just incredible and captivating, and the way Marie Benedict takes on Hedy's voice is well done.

While the science stuff as well as the segments surrounding Austrian politics got to be a bit heavy and difficult to follow, the book as a whole is a loving tribute to not only Hedy's work as a scientist, but Hedy as person.  It's so easy to look at glamorous stars from the Old Hollywood time period and write them off as the eccentric divas so many of them are known as today, but this novel tackles Hedy behind the Hollywood glam.  Marie Benedict's writing itself is adequate throughout the novel, but it's the way she really gets inside Hedy's heart and mind that makes the novel stand out from other biographical fiction I've read.

Also, one last thing I'll note is how well Benedict handles the adopted/not adopted aspect of the "controversial" son James Lamarr Markey/Loder.  I know there are all kinds of gossip and assertions about whether or not James was the illegitimate child of Gene Loder, and I've looked into it a little bit and haven't been able to find anything more conclusive than just some gossip sites and James's questionable statements on the matter.  I have no doubt that Benedict did the appropriate amount of research and used that to handle the James portion of the novel, and I think she did it well!

Overall, this book is a lasting love letter to a woman who deserved to be loved not as a movie star or a beautiful face, but as herself.  Her achievements as a scientist continue to be recognized, and I hope that this book brings yet more awareness!  Little side note: I've worked with both the Ava Gardner Museum and the Ava Gardner Trust for a little over two years now, and one time at the museum, a visitor came up to me and said that he was unhappy with how Ava's scientific contributions had been ignored in our exhibits!  He was talking about Hedy, and he did acknowledge his little mix up after we had a great discussion about it, but that tiny moment just goes to show that her work is being remembered!
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A great novel on an incredible woman. Honestly, if it wasn’t true, I’d hardly believe it. A Hollywood actress who escaped an abusive marriage and the Holocaust just before it came to her Austrian homeland, and became a self taught scientist and inventor, partnering with a musician to develop an unappreciated radio guidance system for torpedoes, which wasn't adopted by the US Navy until the 1960s, and later became the basis for Bluetooth and wi-fi. I know it almost sounds like I just strung a random selection of words together, but it's true and it rightfully makes a great story. My only criticism is that I felt like the ending was a bit of a let down, being somewhat anticlimactic, which I thought might be inevitable given Hedy's life story.

Hedy is a flawed but enormously strong and highly intelligent woman. She uses her beauty to the best of her advantage without compromising her integrity, yet she's not vain, and in some ways, her beauty is what holds her back, as so many people can't see beyond it. She is driven by her empathy and survivors guilt to aid the US military against Hilter. Fulfilling her acting obligations at the same time, she invents a radio guidance system that solves the problem of signal jamming, something no expert with formal education in the industry could do. Sadly, the government rejected her invention until the 1960s for a number reasons, none of them justified.

I feel a little bit like Hedy must have been something of an inspiration for Legally Blonde's Elle Woods: "Did she just wake up one morning and decide 'I think I'll go to law school'?" Did Hedy just wake up one morning and decide, 'I think I'll solve radio signal jamming today'? Of course, it wasn't that simple in reality, but it parallels the movie of an underestimated beautiful woman proving the world wrong and showing everyone just how smart and capable she really is, even if it took some time before they realized it.
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Interesting story of Hedy Lamarr's life. Married early to an arms dealer with Nazi connections, Hedy was his trophy wife. She escaped his control and became an actress who adopted a war orphan and, with help, devised an invention for torpedoes that Washington DC rejected. Instead, they wanted her to help sell war bonds, which she did.
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Marie Benedict has written another fascinating historical fiction book about a multifaceted woman that was not understood in her lifetime. This story of Heddy Lamar looks at the life she had to escape to become the star people know. And even in Hollywood there was so much more to her than being an actress. This was my favorite Marie Benedict book to date, I did not want to put it down.
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I received a digital ARC copy of this book via NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is a fictional account of Hedy Lamar, known for being a film star, but she was also a scientist. This novel shows how she was intelligent and inventive, yet held back because of the time period she lived in, where intelligent women were largely ignored or rejected. The writing was stunning and the story just captures your attention. This showed how a beautiful, intelligent woman was overlooked then, yet remembered now for all the right reasons.
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A compelling and beautifully researched historical novel about a woman whose life experiences will surprise and enthrall the reader.
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Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Kiesler) (1914-2000) was an Austrian-born American film actress and inventor. Her invention along with George Antheil wasn’t incorporated by the US Navy until the 1960s; the principles of their work are incorporated into Bluetooth technology. They were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

1933, Vienna, Austria

Hedy Kiesler is a successful actress, performing in Sissy, beloved Bavarian Empress Elizabeth, at the famed Theater an der Wien.

Friedrich Mandl takes a note of her and pursues her. His company manufactures munitions, and it’s not just what he manufactures, but to whom he sells it. One of his clients is Benito Mussolini.

At 19, to Hedy’s surprise she finds him very attractive. His father agrees to the marriage, seeking security for his daughter against brewing anti-Semitism. And he hopes that this union can bring a protection for his family. They’re not religious, but they’re still Jewish. 

As soon as the honeymoon follows, she already recognizes that the protection they were seeking through this marriage may not be the case. Therefore, she eavesdrops on conversations of her husband and his colleagues. “I often overheard discussions of military plans and suitable weapons, including talk of the strengths and weaknesses of Germany’s system.”

1937, she flees her husband and makes her way to London and gets a chance at second history. The head of MGM Studios offers her a contract. She sails for Hollywood, and on the ship is given her new stage name Hedy Lamarr.

As she moves to the States, she buries the secret of conversations she overheard. But as the war is progressing in Europe and the US remains unaffected, the buried secret gnaws at her.

When Hedy makes her name known in Hollywood, Germany annexes Austria. Now, she needs to get her Jewish mother out of Vienna, where she chose to remain.

“My European friends and I (…) learned that little of the truth was reported in the newspapers. Certainly, details about the Nazi invasion of Poland were described in detail, as well as the ultimatums issued to Germany by the United Kingdom and France. But as I liked to remind our group, when Hitler invaded Austria, the Nuremberg Laws were put into effect, and few newspapers reported on this.”

“Could I have helped the European Jews if I’d made known that the Nuremberg Laws were not the limit of Hitler’s plans?”

Then she meets George Antheil, a famous composer. When she learns about his wife being also European and his brother being killed when stationed in Finland for a short time, she feels a connection with him. And when they play effortlessly on a piano, changing tunes and synchronizing seamlessly, an idea comes to her mind. She asks him to work on a project with her.

There are “flaws with wired torpedoes and her desire is to craft a radio-guided torpedo system for Allies that would be precise in its aim and that would use unjammable frequencies.”

The author skillfully paints a portrait of a beautiful woman with “a sharp mind capable of significant contributions. (…) a woman capable of greatness, and not only on the screen.” Whose secret burns inside her, making her feel guilty for all the lost lives. And the sexism she encounters at the US Navy. “(…) it reflects the pervasive marginalization of women’s contributions, a problem that is both historical and modern.”

The story focuses on the parts of Hedy’s life that are relevant to the premise of the story (stated above). The chapters are short and the story is engrossing, making it a quick read.

If you’re not familiar with this author, I also highly recommend her other two novels: The Other Einstein and Carnegie’s Maid. I greatly appreciate authors, who search for lesser known subjects. I am already eagerly awaiting this author’s next novel.
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This is the second book by Marie Benedict that I've read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The author does a great job of illuminating the lives of little known women in history. This book delves into the life of Hedy Lamarr, a well known Hollywood film actress, who had a fierce intellect most people dismissed. She was a scientist as well as an actress and was responsible for inventions that affect the way we live today. The book was well written and an interesting read.
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I LOVE novels based on true stories and The Only Woman in the Room is the perfect example of why!  Marie Benedict does a fantastic job with writing a riveting storyline set from the early 1930’s through the early 1940’s centering around Hedy Lamarr.  Prior to reading The Only Woman in the Room, I had heard of Hedy Lamarr the movie star, but I had no idea she was also an inventor!  Hedy was a huge contributor to the to the basis of technology that is still used today!  Marie Benedict has written a 4.5 star novel that is both smart and relevant that would make an incredible book club selection!  Being that this is the first Marie Benedict novel I’ve read, I will be definitely checking out her previous books!
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First line: My lids fluttered open, but the floodlights blinded me for a moment.

Summary: Hedy Kiesler was a young actress in Austria in 1933 when she meets Fritz Mandl, a munitions manufacturer. Her parents urge her to marry him in order to keep her safe with the threat of Nazi Germany looming over much of Europe. However, married life is not what she imagined. After fleeing her husband and the coming war, she travels to Hollywood and becomes the famously beautiful, Hedy Lamarr. As the path to war progresses, Hedy is determined to help save as many people as she can, even with very unconventional ways.

Highlights: Going into this novel I knew next to nothing about Hedy Lamarr. The one interaction with her was on the show, Timeless. I think this is one reason that I devoured this book. I did not know what to expect. Many authors have been taking readers back to the golden days of Hollywood but this is by far my favorite! Marie Benedict does a fantastic job of blending truth and fiction.

Hedy is not the normal Hollywood actress. She had other interests and was very intelligent. Her work on the guidance systems for torpedoes was leagues ahead of anyone else. It took months of work but she was not taken seriously by the men of the time. The technology is still used today in cell phones! Even though she has been called the most beautiful woman in the movies she wanted to be defined by more than that.

After finishing her story I picked up the documentary, Bombshell, which goes past Benedict’s narrative but is a great companion to it. As with all the other Hollywood stories, I had to interlibrary loan several of Hedy’s movies. I cannot wait to watch them!

Lowlights: At first I was irritated that we spent such a long time in Austria and centering around her life with her husband as I read though the pacing made more sense. When Hedy arrives in the United States, she feels the guilt of leaving behind her loved ones. In addition, the knowledge she gains from her time with her husband help inform her for her inventions. I was sad that it ended so soon when there was still so much of her life to live but I think that now I have had time to reflect that the author made a good choice of ending it where she did.

FYI: If you enjoyed this than try books by Susan Meissner and Melanie Benjamin.
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Interesting story of Hedy Lamarr, the actress and inventor. Her early years in Vienna as an assimilated Jew and well regarded actress to her marriage to an arms merchant and Nazi collaborator and her escape from that marriage. Landing in Hollywood with success coming almost immediately she was looking for ways to help the war effort when she she honed in on radio waves and torpedoes. Lamarr had a brilliant mind but she could never get past the most beautiful woman in the world handle and the inherent sexism that was prevelent in the 30's and 40's. Her invention eventually led to cell phone technology but by then it was too late for her to be recognized. A well researched book and a fascinating story made more interesting because it's true.
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This book is really well written. I enjoyed reading about Hedy Lamarr; an actress I had heard of but have never seen anything that she’s been in. If you are a fan of any kind of historical fiction, especially if it’s set in the WWII era, check this one out. You won’t be disappointed.
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