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Award-Winning Novel YOU, FASCINATING YOU Now on Audible.com
An Interview with Author Germaine Shames
The short answer is Margit Wolf. As the book’s tagline says, “Behind every great love song is an unforgettable woman.”
I met Wolf’s son, Cesare Frustaci, at the home of mutual friends, Hungarian émigrés, in the winter of 1990. A dozen years later, a videotaped oral history Cesi contributed to Yale University arrived in my mailbox. It told the story of a Jewish Hungarian ballerina who marries an Italian maestro in fascist Italy, a ballerina who inspires an international anthem to longing only to fade from history without a trace. I sat riveted, as if hearing the libretto of a timeless ballet or opera.
Determined to give this forgotten ballerina her moment in the spotlight, I cleared my desk of every other project and dove headlong into You, Fascinating You.
Why an Audiobook?
From the time You, Fascinating You was first published, reviewers have commented on its “cinematic quality.” Actor Susan Hanfield, who narrates the audiobook, brings the story vividly to life scene after scene. Susan’s nuanced characterizations, command of multiple accents, and commitment to excellence make this audiobook as stirring and satisfying as anything I have experienced on a screen or stage.
You refer to You, Fascinating You as a cross between The Red Shoes and Cabaret. How so?
Like the former it centers on an impossible love between a ballerina and a composer, and like the latter its consequences leave the former and her seven-year old boy alone on the streets of Europe during the most desperate years of the Second World War.
Have you a background in ballet?
As a child I dreamed of becoming a ballerina. Like Margit Wolf, I began ballet training at the age of four—and there any comparison ends. I was hopeless! My love of classical dance, however, has endured.
Is You, Fascinating You a love story?
YFY begins as a backstage romance between a Jewish ballerina and an Italian composer during Mussolini’s fascist regime and ends as an epic triumph of the human spirit for a mother and her son. Margit’s actions demonstrate the lengths to which a woman will go to protect and honor those she loves. As she says, “People who love do the impossible all the time.”
But I’ve never heard of Margit Wolf. Why does her story matter?
There have been innumerable artists—dancers, actors, authors, musicians, and playwrights—whose careers were blighted by persecution and oeuvres cut short by war. Imagine for a moment all the songs that will never be composed, ballets never performed, books never written… History has yet to reckon the loss of these great talents. I dedicate You, Fascinating You to their memory.
Casper Silk Returns with a Hailstorm of Truffles
Casper Silk on Echo Year
When, and under what circumstances, was Echo Year conceived?
Shortly after the events of 9/11, my then partner and I considered making France a second home. We had always enjoyed French joie de vivre and gotten on well with the people we met on our numerous sojourns in the country. We knew from newspaper accounts that the country had suffered a spike in hate crimes but found it difficult to reconcile such headlines with the bonhomie we encountered throughout placid, village France.
Hate crimes occur in many countries. Why focus on France?
France has both the largest Arab and Jewish populations of any country in the EU, which makes it a crucible of coexistence on a continent that, historically, has not been particularly hospitable to either group.
You set Echo Year in the village of Beautemps in a chateau called the “Vie Dorée.” Does such a place exist?
Yes, in the imagination of Francophiles everywhere. Who hasn’t dreamed of a life in the perfect French chateau?
The book centers on a Jewish man and Arab teenager who reach out to each other in the aftermath of a firebombing. What makes such a friendship possible?
In the case of my two characters, their shared love of poetry provides a bridge. Echo Year is a love letter to people of goodwill who dare to reach across the divide of hatred.
Your other books, written under your own name, have been well reviewed and even won awards. Why adopt a pseudonym for Echo Year?
Echo Year is fundamentally different—in tone, genre and perspective—from my other books. Readers and critics have come to expect certain qualities from my directly authored works. By adopting a literary alter ego, I free myself to experiment, to take my own dares, in the hope of creating something without precedent.
Mystery Within a Mystery:
Who Is Author Casper Silk?
The novel unfolds on St. Germaine, an imaginary island replete with vice, cults and Calypso. When the controversial American author Francis Stein is stabbed to death, the search for his murderer takes islander Bat Manley north to the other half of Stein’s double life, south to St. Germaine’s crime-ridden slums, and finally into the realm of the psyche, where the blind see and the dead speak.
As if the setting, premise and story were not mysterious enough, the book’s pseudonymous author Casper Silk has yet to reveal his—or her—identity.
Pale Fire Press provides this scanty bio: Casper Silk is the pseudonym of an award-winning author whose works defy easy categorization, combining elements of literary and genre fiction, and straying from the straight-and-narrow of chronology into a kaleidoscopic striptease of the human soul.
So, who is Casper Silk? If you would like to venture a guess, Pale Fire Press is holding a contest. The first reader to correctly identify the enigmatic Silk will win signed print copies of all of the pseudonymous author’s future books.
Advance Praise for Hotel Noir
“A noirish combination of F. Scott Fitzgerald and early P. D. James on steroids, as told by a narrator who knows how to weave a web and pull you in without your realizing that you are caught. An intriguing literary crime novel filled with wonderfully zany characters Agatha Christie would have killed for.” Sam Millar, NY Journal of Books
“I was not far into the book when I drew the comparison of Hotel Noir to Death in Venice.” Charlie Courtland, aka Archie Standwood
“Compellingly readable throughout… the whole book is a delight.” Jack Chapman, author of Watching Marilyn
“I’m thoroughly intrigued by this novel, though not necessarily for straightforward reasons. I think what has hooked me is that it doesn’t seem like anything else. Casper Silk has a wholly unique voice. It’s an entirely bizarre one, too, and Hotel Noir is a dark yet evocative portrait of an island quickly changing, a hotel of another era, and a man caught in the midst.” Lexy Bloom
You, Fascinating You Designated “Editor’s Choice” by the Historical Novel Society
Review, May 2012:
This biographical novel has a beautiful nostalgic quality, the sort of feeling you get when watching classic noir films, browsing vintage postcards or old photo albums of happy families that you know are doomed.
Ballerina Margit Wolf is just seventeen when she leaves Hungary for a short-lived career on the Italian stage. She eventually marries her “maestro”, composer Pasquale Frustaci. In 1938 Margit yearns to see her Jewish family again and travels home to Budapest with her son, Cesare. Shortly afterwards, her pining husband Pasquale gains international success with his song “Tu Solamente Tu” (“You, Fascinating You”).
Forcibly separated from Cesare and trapped behind closed borders, Margit suffers greatly, first at the hands of the Nazis, later the Russians. For twenty years she struggles to find a way to be reunited with Pasquale in Italy.
The author’s style is faultless and understated. You aren’t inflicted with clever historical research or lectures about the Holocaust or communism; there is no overt sentimentality. The truth is told in a few words, a look, a gesture. We bear witness to the tragedies of these real people with all their flaws and contradictions, but also to their resilience and hope. There are surprise cameos too from celebrities of the era: Vittorio de Sica, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Greta Garbo.
Why this excellent work wasn’t picked up by a major publisher is a mystery. (Despite the cliché about not judging covers, a more professional design might help to attract the wide audience it deserves.)
For anyone unfamiliar with the aftermath of World War II in Europe or simply in search of a human story well told, this is most highly recommended.
You, Fascinating You by Germaine Shames Leads the List at Pale Fire Press
Behind every great love song is an unforgettable woman. Behind “You, Fascinating You”, recorded by Glenn Miller and popular throughout Europe as the Second World War entered its darkest years, was Margit Wolf, a Jewish ballerina forgotten by history.
Pasquale Frustaci, then a little-known maestro, composed the song in the final weeks of 1938, in the shadow of Kristallnacht and imminent war. Its lyrics lamented his forced separation from Wolf and their two-year old son in the wake of Mussolini’s edict banishing foreign Jews from Italy. The song, first recorded by Vittorio de Sica in 1939, catapulted to the top of the Hit Parade and earned its composer the moniker “The Italian Cole Porter”. The German version, “Du Immer Wieder Du”, would be performed by Zarah Leander, the foremost film star of the German Reich, and its English counterpart, “You, Fascinating You”, by the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band.
Award-winning author Elizabeth Evans says, “In this heartbreaking and original novel based on the life of Hungarian ballerina Margit Wolf, Germaine Shames has crafted a story that will absorb readers fascinated not only by history and art, but romantic obsession. From Wolf’s touching point of view, we see a valiant Jewish artist swept along by a combination of political horrors and her unfailing passion for her husband, famed Italian composer Pasquale Frustaci, who refuses to help her and her son escape from brutal life under the Nazis occupying Hungary. Shames’ faithful, carefully researched portrayal of Wolf’s blindness and history’s cruelty makes this a compelling read.”
“A love story reminiscent of that of my grandparents,” sums up Kinga Nijinsky, granddaughter of legendary danseur Vaslav Nijinsky. “I could not put it down.”
You, Fascinating You begins as a backstage romance between two bright young talents and ends as an epic triumph of the spirit for a mother and her son.
Publication Date: March 24, 2012
Price: Paperback $16.99/Ebook $4.99
- For more information visit http://germainewrites.com
- To interview author Germaine Shames, contact us or call 877.331.5022 option 2.
More Advance Praise…
“Germaine paints a vivid and accurate portrait of the world of ballet in pre and post-war Europe. The epic drama expected on the ballet stage is dwarfed by the tragic real life events of her ballerina heroine, Margit Wolf. Penetrating descriptions of political brutality and the prepossession of romantic love, an ever present theme in classical ballet, make for a page-turning, impelling read.”
Janet Panetta, Ballet Master Pina Bausch
“Germaine Shames’ beautiful depiction of the life of Margit Wolf and Pasquale Frustaci is told with such vivid and haunting detail, it’s as if the reader is propelled back in time to witness a devastating journey of shattered dreams, juxtaposed with the strength and courage of the human heart. A tragic story, beautifully written.”
Susan Jaffe, “America’s quintessential ballerina”
“An epic story and a true story. Margit Wolf’s life s the kind of character journey that makes for great movies.”
Howard Allen, “the Script Doctor”
“Shames captures the essence of a ballerina with such expertise in her riveting story. Dancers succeed by creating beauty from effort; this book, too, shows that exquisite art can be made from history’s hardships.”
Elana Altman, soloist dancer, San Francisco Ballet
“Compelling, heart-wrenching, and heroic.”