Review: Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado

June 17, 2013 Historical Fiction, Knopf, Review 3

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (June 4, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 0307962792
  • Source: Publisher

Paris is currently occupied by the Germans. New York’s Mayor La Guardia believes he can make the city the new fashion capital of the world. Mignonne Lachapelle is a twenty-two year old woman, headstrong and eager to make herself known in the world of fashion design. Her designs are unique and border on risque. After her instructor and mentor pass some of her Mignonne’s design’s off as her own, Mignonne immediately seeks retribution and ends up working as her mentor’s assistant. It is here that she is reunited with French expatriate writer/war pilot, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a man whom she tutored in the English language a year previous.

Mignonne’s quest to make a name for herself becomes a bit more complicated with this reunion, particularly when Antoine’s wife, Consuelo, becomes one of her customers. Despite flaunting her many affairs before her husband’s eyes, Consuelo is quite desperate to win back the love and attention of Antoine. The three become consumed in the most complicated of love triangles, particularly when Consuelo enlists Mignonne in her attempts to win back her husband. Antoine is emotionally needy and vulnerable, reaching for Mignonne’s adoration to aid him as he writes his novel about a young prince, lost and exiled on earth after falling during his journey through the planets. In turn, Mignonne turns Antoine’s novel, The Little Prince, into a fashion show, all in a vain attempt to prevent Antoine from leaving her and enlisting in the war.

Szado’s Studio Saint-Ex captures so eloquently the tumultuous New York of the 1940s. The country, and the world, was embarking on a completely new manner of life, war with Germany looming. Despite the chaos that is looming, the reader becomes instantly immersed in setting of New York, just as the city’s introduction and fame in the fashion world is about to take off.  Having visited the city several times myself, I can visualize the city as it is now, yet also transported to a time when the Garment District was overrun with designers, vendors and the like.

The characters Szado creates are incredibly detailed and well-portrayed. Each are completely flawed yet it is difficult not to sympathize with each and every one of them. Mignonne is desperate to make a name for herself as a fashion designer. Her passion was so real and vivid that it comes alive on the pages. After being betrayed by her mentor, her determination only grows stronger, only lessening when yet another more tangible passion presents itself. Antoine’s own desperation and loneliness comes alive in his writing. He feels abandoned and lost in a country that is not his own, his potential also diminished as long as he’s prevented from living a life he so desperately needs to lead. And Consuelo…so vain yet also so needy of her husband’s love.

A fan of Saint-Exupéry’s children’s classic The Little Prince from childhood, I found it incredibly rewarding to read about his life as he wrote it, even if it is a fictionalized account.  Add that to the rich historical account of a blossoming fashion capital and it all adds up to a incredibly captivating, wholly remarkable and well-rounded novel. Even those not familiar with the brilliant work of Saint-Exupéry’s will be rewarded with an incredibly enriching experience. Highly, highly recommended.

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