“In Dietrich & Riefenstahl," German historian Karin Wieland ostensibly compares the lives of two German-born movie personalities, actor Marlene Dietrich and director Leni Riefenstahl. In fact, the true subject of her dual biography is more ambitious: the contrast between good and evil.”
“Wieland is shrewd, though, about her subjects and has done serious work in German archives, producing documents—a reassuring letter from Riefenstahl to Albert Speer, in 1944, predicting a 'great turning point in this war'; an unpublished memoir by Riefenstahl’s inconveniently Jewish early lover-financier; several Dietrich letters—that give her book credibility, texture, and unending interest.”
“Via a fluent, often witty translation by Shelley Frisch, Wieland draws the portrait of women who were ambitious to a degree stunning in their day. Moreover, by tracking their divergent careers together, she is able subtly to suggest some answers to a question that hangs over every mid-century German artist: what kind of responses were available to the Nazi apocalypse?”
Wieland’s patient depiction of girls coming of age between world wars has its own sneak-attack power. You are fascinated as Riefenstahl succumbs to the Nazi promise of German force ... Bach wrote in Leni that there was little 'meaningful comparison' between the beloved star and the notorious director. Wieland’s book proves him wrong. She uses these two virtuosos’ lives to generate piercing insights about ambition, ego, creativity and the life-changing, world-altering repercussions of a momentous choice.
These two lives could have been woven into a fascinating double biography. But Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives, by the German historian Karin Wieland, is not that book. It took every ounce of my own undying German discipline to slog through this 573-page mess.”