The Glimmer Palace is one of those rare, immersive novels that fully transports the reader into a place and time far removed from this modern twenty-first century. Beatrice Colin’s book took me back to Berlin at the beginning of the twentieth century, when that legendary city was blossoming and its film stars and cabaret performers were the most sought-after flowers of the entertainment world. At the dawn of this new world is born Lilly Nelly Aphrodite, the illegitimate daughter of a cabaret performer. Within a few months the little girl is orphaned, and she begins a life of restless transition and searching. Never sure of her identity, Lilly constantly reinvents herself as she seeks her place in the world: orphan, maid, poet’s muse, bride, widow, barmaid, typist, and star of German film. Lilly’s growth and happiness are implicitly tied to the city she calls home: as Berlin’s star rises and falls, so does she.
Colin brings drama and bubbling, breathing life to every page. Lilly’s flashing, lovely eyes are witness to some of the greatest changes the world has ever seen. She proves herself to be as delicate as a hothouse flower and tenacious as a weed as she survives a childhood in an orphanage and slow starvation in post-WWI Germany, yet rising to live the life of a glamorous film star in Berlin and Hollywood. Throughout it all I rooted for her. I wanted her to win. It is clear early on that she becomes a huge star (references are made to interviews conducted after she’s “made it”) but when she’s fighting in the streets for horsemeat I was just dying to know HOW she was going to get through. Knowing that Lilly would be OK did absolutely nothing to dispense the tension and suspense. I just could not put this book down. As Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha brought Japan’s floating world to life, The Glimmer Palace brings the mysterious world of Berlin and cabaret back from the hazy past like a shimmering dream.