Review

Divine Sarah

by Adam Braver



Adam Braver's DIVINE SARAH is an attempt to recreate the essence of
the legendary Sarah Bernhardt, as she and her entourage travel to
Southern California in the early 1900s as part of a national tour.
The novel opens with Sarah's debut performance in America, December
4, 1880, at the Booth Theater in New York City. She is performing
her famous role of Marguerite Gautier in "La Dame aux Camelias."
The author describes the beauty that is the Divine Sarah,
performing onstage as only she can. The scene ends, and the
applause rolls in like thunder. And all Sarah can think of is going
to bed. She is exhausted, but thousands of adoring fans stand
outside to get a glimpse of this legendary woman who has already
conquered Europe with her beauty and charisma.


The author then moves the story almost thirty years into the
future. It is now 1906. Sarah is in her early sixties and is
traveling through the western United States with her entourage,
about to embark on a series of plays in Los Angeles. The League of
Decency, with the full support of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles
and Bishop Conaty, are boycotting Sarah's performances in town. The
League is powerful enough to shut them down, declaring that Sarah
and her show represent indecency and sin and everything that is
immoral. It is all over the local newspapers, and Sarah is in a
rage. The group instead moves on to the new community of Venice of
America, where this new development town welcomes them with open
arms.


A younger Sarah would have laughed it off, but this older Sarah is
angry. Throughout the book, Sarah struggles with her younger self
and this present-day aging Sarah, as she feels torn over the
concept of acting and touring, yet reminisces about her younger
years and how she was the toast of the town. She is unsure of
herself now, and feels that her fans no longer want to see her and
are tired of her performances. She feels that she does not want to
go on. Her body is aging, and the habit of opium and cocaine is no
longer the solution. She is not sure that she wants to continue the
life of an actress.


Enter the Los Angeles newspaper scene. Several local papers see the
arrival of Sarah and her troupe as big time news. One newspaper
reporter, Vince Baker, is frustrated about the types of stories he
is asked to cover. Other papers are writing drivel, while he wants
to write real news. He is asked to cover Sarah Bernhardt's stay in
Southern California, and he's not sure that he wants to do it; he
doesn't see her as news. Her altercation with the Church is news,
but his editor wants to see stories about HER to satisfy her
fans.


A third important character is Abbott Kinney, a developer who
became the founding father of the city of Venice, California, where
this story takes place. A person out of the history books and
important to the history of Southern California, Kinney does his
best to take advantage of Sarah's troupe coming to town. It's a
chance to put Venice of America on the map as a major art center,
rivaling Los Angeles.


DIVINE SARAH takes place in the span of one week, and delves mostly
into Sarah's insecurities and confusion on whether to retire or
continue acting. Her faithful manager and good friend, Max Klein,
is always by her side, guiding her and serving her and is the only
one who could truthfully be called her confidante.


While Braver's attempt to recreate a part of history is somewhat
successful, he fails to create characters who feel real and more
than one-dimensional. It is difficult to point to where the
problems lie; although the re-enactments of some of these
larger-than-life characters were somewhat interesting, the purpose
of the book did not seem to be fulfilled. There could have been a
better tie-in between reporter Vince Baker and Sarah Bernhardt, but
it was half-hearted at best. The descriptions of early 1900s Los
Angeles, however, were worth reading, and it is apparent that
Braver did his homework.


DIVINE SARAH may be a starting point for anyone interested in the
life of Sarah Bernhardt. As a novel it was somewhat of a
disappointment, but it was not a total waste of time.


   
















Reviewed by Marie Hashima Lofton (Ratmammy@lofton.org) on December 29, 2010

Divine Sarah
by Adam Braver

  • Publication Date: July 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 0060544074
  • ISBN-13: 9780060544072