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#TuesdayBookBlog THE OTHER MRS. SAMSON by Ralph Webster (@Ralph_Webster) Biographical historical fiction for fans of women’s stories and XIX and XX narratives #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you novel/fictionalised biography that I found fascinating. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

The Other Mrs. Samson by Ralph Webster

The Other Mrs. Samson by Ralph Webster

Surviving two wars, sharing one husband, searching for answers.

A hidden compartment in a black lacquer cabinet left in an attic reveals the secrets of two incredible women: Hilda, born and raised in one of the wealthiest Jewish families in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and Katie, whose early life in Germany is marked by tragedy and death. Their lives are forever entwined by their love of the same man, the brilliant and compassionate Dr. Josef Samson.

From the earliest, rough-and-tumble days of San Francisco, through the devastation of the Great War in Berlin and the terrors of Vichy France, and then to a new yet uncertain life in New York City, their stories span the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. In the end, one of these women will complete the life of the other and make a startling discovery about the husband they share.

https://www.amazon.com/Other-Mrs-Samson-Ralph-Webster-ebook/dp/B08NYYWMHN/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Other-Mrs-Samson-Ralph-Webster-ebook/dp/B08NYYWMHN/

https://www.amazon.es/Other-Mrs-Samson-Ralph-Webster-ebook/dp/B08NYYWMHN/

Author Ralph Webster

About the author:

Award-winning author Ralph Webster received worldwide acclaim for his first book, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other, which tells the story of his father’s flight from the Holocaust. Voted by readers as a Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards Nominee for Best Memoir/Autobiography, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other, his second book, One More Moon, and now his third book, The Other Mrs. Samson, are proven book club selections for thought-provoking and engaging discussions. Whether in person or online, Ralph welcomes and values his exchanges with readers and makes every effort to participate in conversations about his books. Now retired, he lives with his wife, Ginger, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the U.S.

Please contact Ralph via his websites to schedule via Zoom, Skype, or in person for your book club.

https://www.amazon.com/Ralph-Webster/e/B01HRYKN9Y/

https://ralphwebster-author.com/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team and I was provided an ARC copy of the novel I freely chose to review. Well, I’m not sure “novel” is the best word to define this book, but more on that, later.

As the description of the book suggests, this is the story of two women, told by them, although somewhat indirectly. This is one of those books (they are also quite a few movies, mostly adaptations of novels), which follow similar plots, or use a similar “frame” to tell a story: somebody finds a book, diary, collection of letters, etc., sometimes belonging to a parent, another relative, a friend, sometimes to somebody they’ve never met, and then, as if in a long flashback, we get to hear (or see) the story of that other person. Most of these stories tend to include some secret or major revelation towards the end, which casts a new light on the characters and their lives. In this book, a couple have inherited a piece of furniture (a lacquered cabinet) from an elderly woman they met through one of their relatives (they had been friends for decades and met regularly to have lunch and share news), and whom they became friendly with after their relative’s passing. By pure chance, they discover a secret drawer in the cabinet and inside there are (with some extra bits) two diaries/documents narrating the stories of two women who’d been married to the same man at very different moments in time (and also at very different historical periods). What makes the book particularly interesting is that in the acknowledgments’ section, the author talks about the process of development of the book, the help he got translating letters, etc., and also the fact that he changed some names, so this is not a work of fiction in its entirety, but rather a fictionalisation of the lives of two women. This makes sense, especially considering that the author (whose work I hadn’t read before) is well known for his work writing/adapting memoirs and biographies. The note doesn’t clarify how much of the content is fictionalised, but I found the category of biographical historical fiction that the book is classed under more than appropriate.

What I most liked about the book is the historical sweep and the amount of detail about the periods it covers, and also the two main characters (or the two narrators, to be more specific), Hilda and Katie. As Hilda’s narration also includes details about her grandparents and her parents, we get treated to a chronicle of life from the early XIX century in Germany —the immigration of her ancestors to the United States (and San Francisco in particular) from old Europe, a description of her own life as a well-off debutante and a young woman —through to the late XIX and early XX century. We hear about the fires, the earthquake, we read about what travelling was like, and also about Hilda’s visits to Germany and her contact with a distant cousin who would become her husband, Josef. She moves to Germany, totally changing her husband’s life, and acknowledges her difficulties adapting to a new place, to living with somebody else, and also, later, describes how their life is affected by WWI. Hilda can be spoilt and whimsical, but she is determined to have her own life and not to simply become a doctor’s wife. Katie, on the other hand, is much younger than her husband, her social circumstances and education are very different to those of Josef (and Hilda) and they first meet while she is looking after his elderly mother. This takes place much later (in the late 1920s-early 1930s), and we follow her through a somewhat odd courting, then she joins him in France (he is Jewish and leaves Germany soon after Hitler comes into power), and she adapts her life to his, following him in his increasingly desperate attempts to leave Europe. The two narratives are in the first person, and Hilda and Katie have pretty different personalities which clearly come across in their parts of the story. While Hilda is more expressive and outgoing, Katie has seen a lot of suffering from a very young age, prefers quiet pursuits, and is happy to try to fit in with others and avoid confrontation.

This is a book full of little details that play important parts in the story, objects that come to symbolise aspects of the relationship of the two women with their husbands and also illustrate their personalities (while Hilda doesn’t get on with Josef’s mother and insists on standing her ground, Katie adapts to Josef’s mother’s somewhat overbearing personality and becomes a beloved companion of the old woman; Hilda dislikes the piano seat Josef can’t bear to part with but only convinces him to reupholster it, while Katie convinces him to get a two-seater piano bench; Katie’s father gives her a clock that becomes a stand-in for the past and for old memories and times). As we read the story we come to realise that Josef’s life has changed little, and we can’t help but wonder about the story of these women and about the man himself. There is a twist at the end, which helps explain some things, but it leaves as many questions unanswered as it solves.

I am not sure that there is anything I dislike about the book. By its own nature and the way the story is narrated, there is a lot of telling, but the stories told are so fascinating that I didn’t mind at all, and other than the occasional German word (which is usually translated or explained in the text), the text is easy to read with no sudden jumps in point of view or chronology, apart from the framing story. Katie’s account will, perhaps, be more familiar to readers, as there has been an upsurge in stories about WWII, and I know some readers didn’t feel that part quite matched the intensity of the other, but I was intrigued by the character, her relationship with her husband and her attitude towards life (although I don’t have much, if anything, in common with her). Of course, readers who dislike telling or like elaborate plots that move the story along without a pause might feel frustrated by the story and the style of the narrative, but I liked the way the two stories fitted together and felt the technique used to tell the story is well suited to the material.

I recommend this book to readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in XIX and XX century German and American History, to people who enjoy biographies and/or fictionalised biographies, and particularly to those who like to read about women’s lives in the past. If you’re looking for a page-turner full of sensational adventures and larger-than-life characters, on the other hand, this is not the book for you. I look forward to discovering more of the author’s book and will follow his career with interest.

 Thanks to the author for the book, thanks to Rosie and to the members of the team for their ongoing support, thanks to all of you for reading, and make sure you keep safe. ♥

By OlgaNunez

I was born in Barcelona and after living in the UK for many years have now returned home. I teach English, volunteer at Sants 3 Ràdio, a local radio station, I'm a writer, translator (English-Spanish and vice-versa) and I'm a medical doctor and worked in Forensic Psychiatry many years. I also have a BA and a PhD in American Literature and Film, and a Masters in Criminology. I've always loved books and apart from writing them I review them often.
I write a bit of everything, check my books for more information and my about page for links.
My blog is bilingual, English and Spanish.

14 replies on “#TuesdayBookBlog THE OTHER MRS. SAMSON by Ralph Webster (@Ralph_Webster) Biographical historical fiction for fans of women’s stories and XIX and XX narratives #RBRT”

I’m seeing reviews for this all over the place and over on Linda’s Book Bag there’s an interview with the author. The book does sound intriguing – but I may wait until the price comes down a bit – it’s a bit on the expensive side for me.

Thanks, Mary. Yes, I know what you mean. I have quite a few books on my wish list, and Amazon is good at letting me know when they are on offer. I must check Linda’s post as well. The author sent me some comments when he read the review, and it’s quite a story. I hope you’re feeling OK this week. Stay safe.

Thanks for this mindful review, Olga. For some reason, I was expecting an (at least somewhat) whimsical story. I do like the setting though. The hidden compartment and the piano intrigue me. It actually sounds like an interesting piece just to study how (the style) it was written. Hmmm.
Stay safe and well. Hugs on the wing.

Thanks, Teagan. Yes, the whimsy perhaps comes from the cover, which pulled me in as well. I’ve never been one for writing memoirs or biographies, and I know it requires a lot of talent and skill, especially when you don’t have all the information you’d like. I think you’d appreciate the period detail and the historical setting as well. Stay safe.

Thanks, Pete. I thought you might be interested in the book, as I know you enjoy history and stories set in certain historical periods. The author does a great job of bringing the era to life. Stay safe, and thanks for alerting me to the issues with the comments. I’m checking around. (I know some plugins were updated, and sometimes that sends the website into a spin for a while).

I think this book sounds fascinating, Olga. Some books are written for a specific type of audience, for example people with an interest in history, and don’t necessarily appeal of all readers. After all, how many people read and enjoy classic books?

You’re right, Robbie. There are many people interested in history, but not all of them are keen on reading books, especially not from an individual’s perspective, and not somebody known or famous. I am one of those people who enjoy reading the classics (at least some of them!), although there are quite a few I haven’t read yet. Thanks for your comment and have a great week!

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