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David Winner
Master Lovers
David Winner, author

Adult; Memoir; (Market)

While clearing out his great aunt's midtown apartment after her death, author David Winner discovered artifacts of her storied existence: notes from opera stars, love letters and artifacts from the Middle East of the 1930’s. His Aunt Dorle had been a co-founder of Angel Records and a prominent figure in the mid-century classical music world. But the more he learned about her world, the more complicated her story became, a twisted puzzle full of love and fascism, a record of a young woman grappling with her attraction to lovers with hair-raising political ties. A powerful work of family discovery, rooted in a bygone Midtown Manhattan and involving artists and politicians from around the world.
Winner’s self-described “fictional memoir” imagines the life of his great aunt Dorle Jarmel Soria, a project inspired by his discovery of fascinating “artifacts of her storied existence” after her death, including love letters. But he also “found a twisted puzzle full of fascism and fraud.” Dorle is feisty and temperamental, a woman whose zeal to do “something vital in the world” led her to work with Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic in the 1930s and to become one of the first female students of the Columbia School of Journalism. “A marvelous woman and grand,” in the words of one male contemporary, Dorle was fascinated by powerful men, and she fell in love with a variety of men whose mysteries and legacies Winner compellingly teases out.

These include a British policeman, a Syrian antiquities dealer, the geneticist JBS Haldane, “who cured tetanus and fought Franco,” and—most curiously, especially since Dorle was an Orthodox Jew—a married American reporter, John Carter, who was “deputized by Goering to start a ‘Hitlerist’ party to run in the 1932 election.” That revelation stuns Winner; this book is, in many ways, his search for answers. Winner’s account stands out for its honest, searching depiction of the protagonist and her family, including Winner himself. His assiduous research, his determination to get to the bottom of things, and his fascination for the past make an intimate page-turner of a work of investigative portraiture.

Winner deftly conjures Dorle, the people she interacted with, and the world she lived in. Apart from Haldane, the most interesting person is Carter, who comes across as a political opportunist as Winner finds himself unable to definitively untangle the man’s true beliefs and loyalties—and what Dorle knew of his sympathies. With consummate skill he builds a seamless narrative, blending Dorle’s love letters and his own research, filling the gaps by relying on his imagination. The result is an engrossing story about the life and times of a singular woman who lived life to the fullest.

Takeaway: Fascinating “fictional memoir” of a trailblazing great aunt and her mysteries.

Comparable Titles: Heidi Ardizzone’s An Illuminated Life, Annie Ernaux ‘s A Woman’s Story.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A