SARAH by Joel Gross


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Another of Gross' ""heroine"" novels (The Books of Rachel, The Lives of Rachel, Spirit in the Flesh, etc.), this time a vapid gloss on the life of actress Sarah Bernhardt. The ""Divine Sarah"" was born in 1844 in Paris, the unloved daughter of a beautiful but extremely vain and selfish Jewish courtesan. After unhappy years in boarding schools and convents, Sarah decides to become an actress like her idol, the tubercular Rachel Felix. With the help of one of her mother's noble lovers, she joins the ComÉdie Francaise and makes an undistinguished debut at the age of 18, a tall, thin girl with wild red hair. Further performances garner disastrous reviews, and she sinks to doing vaudeville and melodrama for the great unwashed, who, however, appreciate her, and her reputation begins to grow. By this time, she's got an illegitimate son and royal lover (the Prince Henri de Luyer), who is a morphine addict. But driven by her intense need for the love she was deprived of as an infant (a point made thuddingly, over and over again), she's soon a Left Bank star, and then famous all over France: not even the Franco-Prussian War can stop her, and celebrities kneel at her feet. ""'Promise me, Mademoiselle Bernhardt,' said Victor Hugo, 'promise me that you will always follow your art.'"" Having wrestled history to its knees, Gross loosens his hold a little, and decades fly by in paragraphs: Sarah's fans turn on her, she makes a brilliant American tour, marries (another dope addict), regains her following, and finally dies revered, at the age of 79, in 1923. In all, extremely feeble caricature.

Pub Date: Aug. 17th, 1987
Publisher: Morrow