NONFICTION

Sarah Bernhardt: The Divine and Dazzling Life of the World’s First Superstar

HMH/Clarion. Jun. 2020. 192p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781328557506.
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Gr 7 Up–The 19th century has been called the “Century of Sarah Bernhardt.” The French stage actress (1844−1923) was more than just a performer—Bernhardt was a genuine celebrity, cultivating her persona with virtuoso performances (she was renowned for her death scenes), acts of great charity (converting her theater into a hospital during the Franco-Prussian War), and outrageous stunts (wearing a stuffed bat on her head and keeping wild animals as pets). The daughter of a French courtesan, her start in the theater industry was rocky, but Bernhardt built a devoted following that catapulted her into international fame. Reef traces her beginning years as small child being raised by a nurse in the early 1840s to her death in 1923. She provides interesting historical and cultural context to help readers understand Bernhardt’s world. Some of the more intriguing details of the actress’s personal life, like her difficult relationship with her mother and her tendency to embellish (and sometimes flat-out lie) about her past, are mentioned repeatedly, but never really dwelt on. Indeed, additional character insight may not be necessary; the events of Bernhardt’s life are fascinating on their own. The easy-to-read text paints a striking picture of 19th and early 20th century Paris.
VERDICT A strong addition to any biography collection, particularly one looking to add biographies of women.

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