The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite, Paperback Book

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath.

Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous double murder, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves. There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse.

As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self.

Gripping and darkly seductive, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite showcases all the glitter and splendour of the brief heyday of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hollywood to its golden age.

As it foreshadows the horrors of the Second World War, the novel asks what price is paid when identity becomes unfixed and the social order is upended.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 9781848540316

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Review by

Superficial book fiend that I am, I confess that I chose this novel without a clue as to the subject simply because of the garish but eyecatching cover, which reminded me of Tretchikoff's painting. However, although it's true that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, I wasn't disappointed. Beatrice Colin is a stunning writer, weaving poignant imagery into a bleak landscape of history, and redressing her own ignorance of time and place through the fictional biography of a German film star.Lilly Nelly Aprhodite is born in Berlin at the end of the old century, but takes her first gasp of breath on New Year's Day, 1900, 'as if she was determined to wait'. Her parents, an actress and her Bavarian lover, make a suitably dramatic exit, and baby Lilly is raised in an orphanage where she finds Sister August, an inspiring role model, and Hanne Schmidt, her broken yet resilient best friend. Growing older with the twentieth century, Lilly is raised on a promise, like the future of Berlin itself, but is left to survive as best she can. The poverty and hunger experienced during the First World War continue in peace time, and Lilly is abandoned, neglected and abused time and again, with only Hanne's dubious company to fall back on. The two of them muddle through, with Lilly employed as a maid for a depressive countess and then working with Hanne in a 'tingle-tangle' nightclub, before being 'discovered' and launched into a briefly successful career as a film star. Lilly's life is intertwined with Berlin, and the rise and fall of the city between the wars, but also with the fate of two men who love her: a bashful soldier during the First World War, and the noble Russian who starts Lilly on the path to stardom.It is hard to do justice to the powerful intimacy of this novel merely by describing the plot, because Lilly's 'luminous life' is part history and part fairy tale. Like the author, I have learned so much about Berlin between the wars, but Beatrice Colin's beautiful writing tempers harsh truth with her poetic phrasing: 'The city was full of the newly wed and newly widowed, half dressed in white, the other in black'. Even though Lilly's story is definitely depressing, and slowly paced for much of the book, I found myself almost instantly caught up in the narration and content to simply read and learn.

Review by

The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite opens with Lily's birth. Her mother could be described as Bohemian and unconventional but her homelife is soon to be replaced by the 'family' she inherits as an orphan in a Berlin orphanage. Lily eventually befriends the streetwise Hanne who shows her life outside their home. When the orphanage closes Hanne and Lily lose touch (a recurring theme) and Lily has to grow up in a hurry as she struggles to survive in a brutal, war torn Germany.<br/><br/>This is where the real story begins and life for Lily just seems to be one trauma to deal with after another.<br/><br/>Things are bleak, depressing, grim and hopeless. Through it all though, Lily seems to keep her chin up, while all around her people are dropping like flies and making poor choices. There's not a lot of luminosity in Lily's life though, despite what the title tells you. I had thought that Lily would make a name for herself as an actress and I'd be able to revel in the success she enjoyed, but mostly there isn't a lot to celebrate. Any success she has is accidental or brought about by being in the right place at the right time and I never got the impression that Lily was very instrumental in getting to where she was.<br/><br/>Most of her good luck stems from the fact that she was breathtakingly beautiful with haunting eyes and a voice like a least that's how everyone else sees her, Lily herself doesn't know what the fuss is about.<br/><br/>I didn't hate the book, but it's difficult for me to really love a book when things are so bleak. I was hoping for the payoff at the end, where some sort of reward was waiting for Lily, to compensate for all the hardship and fight she had to contend with, but No, the end is the worst part of all.....for Lily at least.<br/><br/>Beautifully written, and very well researched, it's brings the German era surrounding the first world war and the Weimar rule startlingly into focus.<br/>I suppose it's content can be best summed up by the cover artwork .... it's very Film-Noir.