Tuesday 17 March 2020

#BookReview — Metropolis by Ellie Midwood #HistoricalFiction #1920s

By Ellie Midwood

Weimar Berlin, 1924  
Unemployed actors, profiteers, cabaret girls, and impoverished aristocracy – out of this wild set of characters populating Weimar Berlin, Margarete Gräfin von Steinhoff belongs to the latter category. Having lost everything due to hyper-inflation, she considers jumping into the freezing waters of the Spree rather than facing the humiliating existence shared by millions of her fellow Germans. However, a chance meeting makes her change her mind at the last moment and offers her a chance to rely on the help of the metropolis itself, where anything can be sold and bought for money and where connections are everything. The bustling nightlife of cosmopolitan Berlin, with its casinos and dance halls, brings good income for the ones who don’t burden themselves too heavily with morals. 
After a New Year’s Eve party, Margot finally meets her ever-absent and mysterious neighbor, Paul Schneider, who makes a living by producing a certain type of film for his rich clientele. Under his guidance, Margot discovers a new passion of hers – photography and soon, her talents are noticed by the prominent newspaper, Berliner Tageblatt itself. But being an official photographer of the most celebrated events of the La Scala and most famous Berlin theaters no longer satisfies Margot’s ambitions. As soon as the chance presents itself for her to get involved with the cinematography on the set of "Metropolis" - the film with the highest budget ever produced by the UFA – Margot jumps at it, without thinking twice. At the same time, Paul becomes involved with a rival project, "The Holy Mountain," which stars an as yet unknown actress and an emerging director in, Leni Riefenstahl. As the two women meet, professional rivalry soon turns into a true friendship, fueled by their passion for cinematography. However, due to the economic woes facing Germany, both projects soon run out of money and now, both film crews must go to extreme lengths to save their respective productions. 
Set against the backdrop of a decadent, vibrant, and fascinatingly liberal Weimar Berlin, "Metropolis" is a novel of survival, self-discovery, and self-sacrifice, in the name of art, love, and friendship.

"Fate certainly had a warped sense of humor and particular here, in Weimar Berlin..."

Ernst Weniger had been gassed in the war, and now he had only his pitiable pension to survive on. He could have gone home, back to his parents, but he could not face it, for Ernst was the only one of his friends to survive the carnage. There was no other alternative than to jump into the Spree. However, Ernst was not the only one with such a notion.

Margarete "Margot" Gräfin von Steinhoff knew that fate was at best a fickle friend. The hyper-inflation had taken everything — her home, her position in society, her father. As Margot looked down upon the melancholy misshapen reflection of the moon upon the opaque waters of the Spree, she took comfort in the fact that she was to leave this life on her own terms and in her own way.

But fate had not finished with Margot just yet. In the years to come, Margot would often think back to that night when she and Ernst unwittingly saved each other. If she had died, then Margot would never have met Paul Schneider, a talented photographer. And nor would she have found herself behind the camera as Fritz Lang directed his futuristic urban dystopia film — Metropolis.

From a desperate chance meeting on a bridge to the set of Lang's pioneering science-fiction movie, Metropolis by Ellie Midwood is an unforgettable portrait of 1920s Berlin and it is also the utterly absorbing insight into the making of one of the greatest films of the silent movie era.

With a nod to German Expressionism and with an almost cinematic approach to the writing, Midwood has presented her readers with the most enthralling of stories. Told with Midwood's customary captivating narrative and her passionate attention to the historical detail, Metropolis is at times shockingly decadent, yet at the same time utterly irresistible. Metropolis is a story of suffering, poverty, pain, self-discovery, sacrifice, passion, and the deepest of loves. 

Midwood takes her readers on an incredible journey where she lets us witness the darker, seedier side of life in Berlin during the 1920s — where alcohol seemingly ran as freely as water, opium was the drug of choice, and morals had flown out the window. Germany may well have been in the middle of a financial crisis, but there seemed to be an endless way to forget one's troubles, if, of course, one could afford it. Running alongside the smoke-stained ceilings, debauchery, and the artistic ability to capture an image that speaks a thousand words, is a rumble of political uncertainty. The seduction of The Communist Party of Germany (KPD) who promised equality and fairness despite having a rather shaky start, is played out with all its beguiling subterfuge while The National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) is the embodiment of hypocrisy. Midwood subtly weaves the political landscape into the story while not letting it take over the narrative, which I thought was incredibly well done. We do meet, at least I think we do, a rather prominent member of the Nazi Party during the 1920s and I had a moment of extreme fear for our courageous and intrepid heroine as she calls him out on his obsessive and dominating desire for one of her friends. I fear that such a heroic action may come back to haunt Margot in the next book.

Midwood has given her readers an enthralling heroine in Margot. Despite contemplating taking her own life at the beginning of this book, Margot is very quick to adapt to what is happening around her. When she sees an opportunity, she does not stop to think — she grabs it with both hands. Her relationship with Ernst and their subsequent journey together gives her hope. But as the story progresses, Margot and Ernst begin to travel in very different directions, which is when Paul Schneider comes into Margot's life and irrevocably changes it forever. I adored Midwood's depiction of Margot — it is rich and vibrant and so very real in the telling.

Born from the *first sight of the skyscrapers in New York in October 1924, Midwood has, like a Hollywood film of old, captured the very essence of what life was like on the set of Lang's lavishly expensive, pictorially impressive and visually powerful, Metropolis. It is well documented how demanding Lang was of everyone who worked on the set of Metropolis as he searched desperately for authenticity. Midwood portrays Lang as a director who cannot see past his vision. He is oblivious to the long hours he demands of his cast and crew, nor does he care about the risk involved. Lang was indeed single-minded in his approach to his work and Midwood has splendidly portrayed Lang's obsessive desire to capture his vision in all of its frightening yet fascinating glory.

Metropolis by Ellie Midwood is the kind of book that you have to recommend to everyone you know so that you can discuss it at length over coffee. I was thoroughly enchanted with this novel from beginning to end. Book 2 of this exciting series cannot come soon enough.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

*Fritz Lang: Director, Producer, Actor (1890 - 1976).

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Ellie Midwood

Ellie Midwood is an award-winning, best-selling historical fiction writer. She's a health-obsessed yoga enthusiast, a neat freak, an adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew, and a doggie mama.

Ellie lives in New York with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.


Readers' Favorite - winner in the Historical fiction category (2016) - "The Girl from Berlin: Standartenführer's Wife"

Readers' Favorite - winner in the Historical fiction category (2016) - "The Austrian"(honorable mention)

New Apple - 2016 Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing - "The Austrian"(official selection)

Readers' Favorite - winner in the Historical fiction category (2017) - "Emilia"

Readers' Favorite - winner in the Historical fiction category (2018) - "A Motherland's Daughter, A Fatherland's Son"

The Coffee Pot Book Club Book Of The Year Award – winner in the Modern History category (2019) –

Connect with Ellie: 

Website • Amazon • Goodreads  • BookBub • Facebook.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx