Leben ohne Geheimnis [translated as Falling Star, literally: Life Without Secrets] is a novel by Vicki Baum.
Finished on 16.11.2016
Oliver Dent is a Hollywood star who has just reached the height of his career, mostly because he’s just that good-looking. He meets Donka Morescu, an actress who used to be one of the greats in the silent film era, but was dropped with the rise of sound film because her accent is simply too strong. Oliver and Donka fall very much in love, while Oliver’s friend Aldens, a German, starts dating Francis who dreams of fame and Oliver. But in a world where every action is up for scrutiny by the press and every emotion is tainted by movies, living love can be very difficult indeed.
Leben ohne Geheimnis isn’t a completely bad book, but I liked the idea of this story and the characters in it more than I liked the actual story and characters.
The novel was written in the 30s and in some places it hasn’t aged very well, like when Baum (who was Jewish herself) writes about Jewish eyes (whatever that is supposed to mean) or servile negroes. That I know that the book is almost a hundred years old and that these things have to be seen in their historical context, doesn’t help with the first slap in the face moment when you read those phrases.
But that wasn’t my biggest problem witht he novel by far. No, the biggest problem was that I had trouble connecting with any of the characters. Their story is, of course, tragic, but it could have been so much less tragis, if they had simply communicated with each other – and if that is all your stroy hinges on, there really have to be damn good reasons for the lack of communication and that just didn’t work that way for me here. Instead I caught myself thinking more than once how overly dramatic everybody is being (especially Oliver).
I would have much rather read the story with Francis and Aldens at the center instead of Oliver and Donka. Francis’ story was the only bit I really connected with and had an emotional reaction to.
At least the setting was rather interesting. Since Baum did have experience with Hollywood (around the time this novel was published she was also moving/preemptively fleeing the Nazis to Hollywood herself in the wake of the movie adaptations of her novel “Menschen im Hotel” – “Grand Hotel in English), which lends her take on the movie studio system a certain credibility and that was very interesting to read about. But it didn’t really save the novel for me.