Monday, July 1, 2019

Books: "Stars in His Eyes"

The Stars in His Eyes
By Martí Gironell
Amazon Crossing; hardcover, $24.95; paperback, $14.95; Kindle eBook, $4.99

Ceferino Carrión is desperate for a new life—one of opportunity, fortune, and fame. But he knows he’ll never find this life in war-torn Spain. With his home country under the heel of the devastating Franco dictatorship and call-up papers on his doorstep, Cefe knows there’s only one thing he can do: run.

A new life awaits in America, as does a new name—Jean Leon. From the concrete valleys of the Bronx to the sun-soaked hills of California, Jean crosses paths with legendary superstars, political powerhouses, and dangerous mobsters as he flees his past and pursues his dreams.

With friends like Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean to see him through, Jean soon gets his own taste of stardom, opening his glamourous Beverly Hills restaurant, La Scala, to nightly swarms of celebrities.

Gironell writes, "'This table was Warren Beatty's idea,' Leon explained to Sinatra, who had just wandered into the kitchen. 'Now everyone wants to eat here, in the kitchen.'
"That night, six years since Leon's departure from Villa Capri, Sinatra had finally decided to dine at La Scala. He showed up with his usual retinue, on this occasion four men and two women, all of whom stood discreetly at one end of the bar. The bartender took care of them while a waiter accompanied the singer into the kitchen, where Leon was going over the list of reservations for the next day. The way he moved through the place, Sinatra seemed like a regular, but in fact it was the first time he'd set foot in the place. Sinatra and Leon greeted each other by name and shook hands, a bit too formally, dispassionately.
"The maitre d' came over and nodded as Leon gave the orders, moving his arms with determination, like an orchestra director. Draped in an immaculate suit, with a dark jacket and matching tie, Leon was a far cry form the bumbling, obliging young waiter Sinatra had gotten a job for so long ago, the one who used to struggle to get a word out in English. But he still had that innocent baby face that belied his years, that same clear-eyed stare, the natural elegance and kindness that had caught Frank's eye the day they met.
"The kitchen table was set for two, with glasses for a wine Jean Leon opened himself, nodding approvingly after examining the cork. He served his guest first, then passed him the bottle to examine, as he'd seen Sinatra do so many times before - the original consummate host.
"'A Barbaresco,' Leon said. 'A recommendation from someone who knows his way around wine. A case came in the morning. I'm thinking of putting it on the list.'
"Leon noticed his guest was acting shifty, but Frank was like that when he wasn't in control. Leon knew from experience that direct questions wouldn't get him anywhere. It was better to let the conversation flow toward his old friend's interests, without forcing him to say anything."

As every new adrenaline rush of celebrity comes to him, Jean is further distanced from everyone he loves. Only in searching through his ever-receding past in Barcelona can he find the key to unlock the dream life he has risked so much to build.

About Martí Gironell: Martí Gironell i Gamero is a journalist and writer born in Besalú in 1971. His debut work, The Bridge of the Jews, is the bestselling historical novel ever written by a Catalan author and has sold over one hundred thousand copies. He’s written several novels set in different periods of Catalan history. He currently works at Catalan national television TV3 and writes for the newspaper El Punt Avui. He is considered a master of the popular historical novel, and his novels have brought renewed interest and fame to forgotten yet fascinating figures of southern Europe’s history.

About Adrian Nathan West: Adrian Nathan West is a literary translator and the author of The Aesthetics of Degradation. He is a frequent contributor to the Times Literary Supplement and the Literary Review; his work has also appeared in the London Review of Books, Frieze, the New York Review of Books, McSweeney’s,
and many other journals in print and online. His translations include Juan Benet’s Construction of the Tower of Babel, Rainald Goetz’s Insane, and Marianne Fritz’s The Weight of Things.

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