Diva by Daisy Goodwin

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Diva by Daisy Goodwin

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A lightly-fictionalised telling of the life of Maria Callas. Superb reading and listening.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: March 2024
Publisher: Aria
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1035906703

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We tend to think of Maria Callas as Greek, but she was born to Greek parents in Manhattan, New York, in December 1923 and only moved to Athens when she was thirteen. Her original surname was Kalogeropoulos but her father changed it to 'Callas' to make it more manageable in the States. When she was back in Athens - supposedly so that she could get appropriate training for her voice - she was raised under the Nazi occupation by a mother who mercilessly exploited her and made no secret of her preference for her elder sister, Jackie.

Since my teens, I've been interested in the Kennedy clan. Maria Callas, like Marilyn Monroe, was one of the many people whose lives would not be improved by even a loose association with the Kennedys. Callas, herself, was known as being difficult. She knew what she wanted and needed to sing well and was ruthless about ensuring that her needs were met. In her private life, it was a different matter. She was exploited abused and betrayed by almost everyone she encountered - beginning with her mother. Her most famous relationship was with Aristotle Onassis, the man who professed to love her but who declined to marry her, even when he could have done so. He lavished jewels on her, and bought property for her use - but married Jacqueline Kennedy.

The story is lightly fictionalised. Daisy Goodwin says that she has taken some liberties with dates but, so far as I can see, the history is essentially correct. Callas is brought to life superbly and sympathetically. Her ability to be difficult is perhaps underplayed to some extent: good reasons were always presented for the way that she acted and the character in the book is best described as more sinned against than sinning. But, you're in the hands of a master storyteller here: I imagined reading the book over a week or so, but - in the event - I consumed it over two days, desperate to know what happened next. As if I didn't know - but that's Goodwin's skill. She takes a story you know and delivers it in such a way that you have to know what happens next. Callas is brought to life as not the best singer ever or the most beautiful but as the complete package - something which is hard to beat.

It's not just the celebrities we meet - the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, the leading lights of the opera world - that make the story so compelling. It's the insight into the woman with the brilliant voice and less-than-optimal private life. It's the insight into the world of opera in New York, London, Paris, Rome and Athens for a woman who would probably have been happiest as a Greek housewife. Goodwin's research has been meticulous but it's served up with a light hand and there's never a point where you feel that every bit of information has been ruthlessly shoe-horned in. It's excellent, compelling writing.

I was lucky enough to not only read the book but also to listen to an audio download, narrated by Goodwin herself, Josephine Goddard and Lorelei King. It's superbly done. The range of voices is excellent - I was never in any doubt as to which character I was hearing. I'd be delighted to hear any of the narrators again.

For more from Goodwin, we can recommend My Last Duchess. If you'd like to know more about opera, have a look at Opera by Robert Cannon. For more about the women who married into - and out of - the Kennedy family, you might enjoy The Kennedy Wives: Triumph and Tragedy in America's Most Public Family by Amber Hunt and David Batcher.

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Buy Diva by Daisy Goodwin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Diva by Daisy Goodwin at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.

Buy Diva by Daisy Goodwin at Amazon You could get a free audio download of Diva by Daisy Goodwin with a 30-day Audible free trial at Amazon.co.uk.

Buy Diva by Daisy Goodwin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Diva by Daisy Goodwin at Amazon.com.

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