Beauty, Brains, & Bravery | A #BookReview on The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict
Updated: Apr 14
Author: Marie Benedict
Genre: Historical Fiction
Happy Friday Eve friends! I recently finished another book (big surprise) and I just had to break out the electronic pen and pad so I could tell you all about it. So, a few months ago, I took an unplanned trip to Barnes and Noble. I'd had no intentions of getting another book because I still had a list of TBR books that I hadn't touched yet, but my willpower is nonexistent when it comes to books. I was wandering around, lost in a reader's paradise when my eyes landed on this book. The title was intriguing, so I picked it up. It turns out the book is about Hedy Lamarr, the stunning actress who was briefly married to an Austrian arms dealer during the rise of the Nazi party.
"Her extraordinary beauty saved her life. Her brilliant mind changed ours."
As soon as I read that quote on the back, I was sold. I mean who doesn't love a story about an underdog? It was practically calling my name. I had no choice! I headed home, new purchase in tow, ready to ignore all of the other books on my list and start with this one. The Nazis/Holocaust era is one of history's dark moments that has always fascinated me, because how does one go from being regular degular to being so dark and twisted? How did no one sit down with Hitler and be like: "Bro....what the heck are you out here doing? Please seek therapy." People are sick. Whew.
The Only Woman in the Room recounts Hedy Lamarr's journey from Austria to Hollywood. It mostly concentrates on her early adult life when she was trapped in an unhappy marriage to her controlling and abusive husband who was also an Austrian arms dealer. The book recounts her navigating through the strange existence of having to be in the company of questionable people as the hostess to her husband's shady business dealings.
I cracked open this book, ready to dive into the story (turns out she was an actual person! I had no idea!) of Hedy Lamarr. In all honesty, this story really did not grab me from the jump. I had to push through for a bit before it really started to pick up. I put it down a few times and read other things during the pauses, but I came back to it. I am thankful I did, because it ended up being a pretty decent story. Not the best I've read, but certainly not the worst either.
Ms. Lamarr, who started off the book as Hedwig Kiesler, was a budding actress in Vienna, Austria. The book begins with her accepting her flowers for one of her latest projects. We get an inside look at the dynamics of her family. She is much closer with her father than with her mother. She tells them both that she receives flowers from a mysterious Mr. Mandl. A well to-do Austrian arms dealer. Her parents persuade her into accepting a date from the man and thus their romance begins. I personally will never understand marrying someone you've only known for a few months, but that is exactly what Hedy did. Just as quickly as the romance began, it ended and Mr. Mandl showed his true abusive colors. Poor Hedy ended up being more of a prisoner, allowed out only to look pretty on Mandl's arm while he rubbed elbows with some questionable government officials.
Little did they know, Hedy was a little firecracker who used her talent for memorizing lines to commit all of the Third Reich's conversations to memory while she hatched a plan to escape. Once she was in Hollywood, California and successfully out of Mandl's reach, she began inventing a contraption that would help win the war that plagued her people. Reports of the atrocities occurring against the Jews weighed heavily on her heart and inspired her invention. And...she randomly adopted a Jewish refugee baby. Congrats, I think? The real test, was getting her invention recognized by the right people, but no one wanted to take the beautiful actress seriously. She was just supposed to be a pretty face, just supposed to smile for the camera and not speak but Hedy had a lot to say.
Overall, this book really wasn't bad. It felt a little rushed at the end. Spent so much time focusing on explaining the marriage to Mandl, that they left little time to talk about her scientific side. By the time they brought it up, it seemed a little random. Sure, there were hints of her eavesdropping on conversations and speaking with her father about topics not usually suited for women, but there was not enough mention of her actually being a scientist until the end. One minute she's memorizing lines and the next minute she's a whole scientist creating inventions and securing patents. Gave me a little whiplash. I wish we could have had more of the scientific side of her. I am also sad at how the book ended. I had a pretty big attitude about it for a while until I realized that it was a true story and real life very rarely ends in a neat little bow. While Hedy's invention did not get taken seriously with the government to stop the way raging against the Jews, it ended up being useful in a completely different area. Thanks to her invention, some of the technologies that we use in our cellphones and Bluetooth compatible devices today were created. So next time you're scrolling on your phone, or playing music through your Google Home/Apple Home device, shout out a quick thank you to Ms. Lamarr. You rock, girl!
If you're looking for a quick read, I suggest you grab this book. If you do decide to check it out, you can grab it here:
and when you’re done, please come back and tell me what your thoughts were! I'd love to know your opinion on this one. Did you know Hedy Lamarr was an actual person? Was I just late to the party? Let me know!
Happy reading, babes!