By: Jeanne Mackin

Published: June 3, 2014

Publisher: NAL Trade – Penguin Group

Historical Fiction

I love historical fiction, but fiction that is about real people makes it even more fascinating.  I had never heard of Lee Miller, but found myself on Google, researching her photography.  In THE BEAUTIFUL AMERICAN we are introduced to Man Ray, Lee Miller, and even Pablo Picasso, real people who were part of the world of art history.  Fictional Nora Tours tells the story of herself and these famous artists whose lives were entangled beginning in the 1920’s. The story takes you from New York, to Paris, through WWII, and back to New York. You will be captivated, shocked, and definitely emotional as you travel through the lives of these interesting characters.

Nora Tours is an only child. Her father is a gardener for the Miller family and Nora is forced to play with their privileged daughter. The two become friends, balancing each other out.  Lee is a tomboy who takes risks, and Nora is quiet and reserved. Until one day, when Nora comes to play with Lee and Lee is different.  The two aren’t allowed to play together again. They meet up again as adults in Paris. Lee is now a famous model, living with Man Ray, a famous photographer.  Nora and her beau, Jamie, a wannabe photographer end up spending their days and nights with Lee and Man partying, frequently rubbing shoulders with some of the famous artists of the 20th Century.  Nora and Lee never acknowledge their childhood relationship during all their years together.  After a betrayal, Nora goes to Grasse, France and becomes a much sought after perfume sales woman. Sixteen years later, after WWII, during a devastating time in Nora’s life, she again runs into Lee Miller.  Lee is damaged after photographing the horrors of the war, but finds she can identify with Nora’s pain.  Lee offers to help Nora and ultimately finds as way for the two to come back together, heal their hearts and move forward.


“Jeanne Mackin blends a tale as intoxicating as the finest fragrance. 
Spanning wars both personal and global, A BEAUTIFUL AMERICAN
leaves its essence of love, loss, regret, and hope long after the novel concludes.”
Erika Robuck, National Bestselling Author of FALLEN BEAUTY

While reading this book, I kept thinking of Erika Robuck’s book FALLEN BEAUTY, and how she so expertly weaves a story into the lives of real people.  Mackin’s writing was breathtaking and full of metaphors that told deep truths of the characters and their lives. Mackin places you in Paris, in Grasse, and in the terrors of the war by describing the feelings, the scenery, and the scents of the time.

“That’s the sad truth of betrayal. 
It makes a poor secret except to the betrayed.”

“She had the kind of full, voluptuous figure 
that would turn to fat if she wasn’t careful.”

“But sometimes i thought I saw it in her eyes, in the shadows around them. 
She just refused to allow the memories into the daylight.”

I learned much about perfume from this novel.  Nora taught me how to choose the proper scent, how to test it, and how to apply it. The history of the perfume industry and its role in WWII was also fascinating to me.

“Her perfume entered before she did. That was always a mistake. 
Leave a slight trail like a memory behind you, 
but never let your perfume arrive before you.”

“If grief were a perfume, it would be all top notes with nothing to follow.”

I found much about this novel to love.  It was historically interesting, emotionally brilliant, and full of passion, love, friendships, betrayal, hope, and ultimately, forgiveness.  It is a novel both to be devoured and savored.

Jeanne MacKin
Jeanne Mackin is the author of several historical novels and, writing as Anna Maclean, a trio of mysteries featuring Louisa May Alcott as an amateur sleuth. She has worked as a journalist for several publications, and as a research and science writer at Cornell University, and currently teaches creative writing at Goddard College. She lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, with her husband, artist Steve Poleskie. Jeanne was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, in Washington, D.C.   For more information, visit:
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Thanks to Penguin Group for sending a copy of this novel for review. This review is my honest opinion. I was not compensated in any way for this review. If you choose to purchase the novel through the above link, I may received a small commission without you having to pay a cent more for your purchase. Thanks for supporting reviews.

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