Go to Homepage   Margaret Nicol: Enemy of the Average

 

Allen A. Knoll Publishers, ISBN 1-888310-60-X
Married six times, owner of a mountain of jewels, bright, particular star of dozens of adoring men, and blessed with a face that could and did stop traffic -- this and more was Hanna Mazurka. Born Zdenka Oleska on a small farm in Poland, this willful beauty led a life that would seem to be the stuff fairy tales are made of. 

Grimm's fairy tales, unfortunately. Hanna's definitely no princess. On the contrary, Hanna is a strong-willed, cunning, cold-heartedly beautiful woman with a knack for attracting rich men. Unfortunately for the rich men, Hanna gives nothing in return for their money.  

Deluding herself that she's diva material, despite a reed-thin voice, Hanna sweeps through Europe and the United States like a tidal wave, collecting men and fortunes in her quest to become an opera star. And like a natural disaster, everyone she touches founders in her wake. 

Enemy of the Average follows Hanna's adventures from the small Polish farm she left at 16 to the fabulous gardens in California that became the crowning achievement of her extremely old age. (Hanna doesn't die until she reaches her mid-nineties.) 

For this reviewer, that was part of the problem. By the time the book got to Hanna's old age, one felt shell-shocked. Except for the first 13 years of Hanna's childhood, Nicol leaves no stone unturned in her subject's life. Sadly, Nicol's awe-inspiring attention to detail results in a character so unsympathetic it makes the reader cringe. Each new marriage brings a new parade of enormities, until the reader grows numb and just a little queasy. 

Nicol states at the beginning of the book that she based Enemy of the Average on a "woman much like the main character." While naked ambition and unrelenting cunning make for compelling biography, the fiction reader needs something, anything, to alleviate the heartlessness of the fictional Hanna Mazurka.  

Teri Dohmen 

Editor's note: Ganna Walska, would-be diva and creator of the fabulous Lotusland gardens near Santa Barbara, Calif., used the phrase "enemy of the average" to describe herself. To read more about Walska's garden, click here.

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