Zelda Fitzgerald: The Tragic, Meticulously Researched Biography of the Jazz Age's High Priestess Info

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Zelda Fitzgerald was the mythical American Dream Girl of the
Roaring Twenties who became, in the words of her husband, F. Scott
Fitzgerald, “the first American flapper.” Their romance
transformed a symbol of glamour and spectacle of the Jazz Age. When
Zelda cracked up, not long after the stock market crash of 1929, Scott
remained loyal to her through a nightmare of later breakdowns and final
madness.

Sally Cline brings us a trenchantly authentic voice
through Zelda’s own highly autobiographical writings and hundreds
of letters she wrote to friends and family, publishers and others. New
medical evidence and interviews with Zelda’s last psychiatrist
suggest that her “insanity” may have been less a specific
clinical condition than the product of the treatment she endured for
schizophrenia and her husband’s devastating alcoholism. In
narrating Zelda’s tumultuous life, Cline vividly evokes the circle
of Jazz Age friends that included Edmund Wilson, Ernest Hemingway, John
Dos Passos, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, and H. L. Mencken. Her
exhaustive research and incisive analysis animate a profoundly
moving
portrait of Zelda and provide a convincing context to the legacy of her
tragedy.

Average Ratings and Reviews
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3.78

718 Ratings

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Reviews for Zelda Fitzgerald: The Tragic, Meticulously Researched Biography of the Jazz Age's High Priestess:

4

Jul 31, 2013

My experience of reading F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, my ongoing fascination with Lost Generation writers and my experience of reading Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald led me to this biography. Although I knew relatively little about Zelda Fitzgerald, prior to reading Fowler’s novel I wasn’t convinced by her portrayal in that work. The Zelda in Fowler’s novel was altogether too dreary, sedate and contemporary for a woman whose exploits made her an icon of the My experience of reading F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, my ongoing fascination with Lost Generation writers and my experience of reading Therese Anne Fowler’s Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald led me to this biography. Although I knew relatively little about Zelda Fitzgerald, prior to reading Fowler’s novel I wasn’t convinced by her portrayal in that work. The Zelda in Fowler’s novel was altogether too dreary, sedate and contemporary for a woman whose exploits made her an icon of the Jazz Age.

Cline’s biography has given me a much better insight into the life and times of Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s a very detailed and extensively researched work, covering Zelda’s family background, her childhood and teenage years in Montgomery Alabama, her meeting with F Scott Fitzgerald and their romance and subsequent marriage, which occurred five days after the publication of Scott’s first novel, This Side of Paradise. The bulk of the work deals with the gradual and irrevocable decline of their marriage, destroyed by Scott’s alcoholism and Zelda’s mental illness.

One of the saddest aspects of Zelda’s life was the almost certain misdiagnosis of her psychiatric condition as schizophrenia and the cruel side effects of the treatment to which she was subjected. Another was the characterisation of her creative impulses as evidence that she was an unnatural wife and mother who wanted to compete with her husband. Yet another was the manner in which her husband appropriated her work for his own uses. Cline discusses these and other aspects of Zelda’s life with insight and sensitivity.

According to the introduction, Cline had access to resources denied to previous biographers, including Zelda’s full medical records. She made excellent use of that material. The work is extensively footnoted and includes a lengthy bibliography. The medical information available to Cline includes the transcript of an interview between Zelda and Scott and her psychiatrist during which the pair trade recriminations and Zelda ultimately gives in to Scott’s demands. This is particularly poignant to read, as are the extracts from the couple’s letters.

Cline’s style is easy to read and engaging. She occasionally indulges in speculation of the “Zelda must have thought” variety, but not so often that the work loses credibility. And while Cline is firmly on the side of her subject, she’s not unfair to Scott Fitzgerald who, despite his frequently brutal treatment of Zelda, continued to support her financially and cared for her to the extent of his ability to do so.

Scott’s alcoholism and insecurity and Zelda’s mental illness and refusal to conform made their relationship toxic. Together they formed the ultimate tabloid celebrity couple – the rock stars of their day. But like many rock stars, they flew too close to the sun and it consumed them. Zelda’s story is extremely sad and Cline tells it very well.
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3

Feb 01, 2009

If you are a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, you should not read this book. For many years I have heard people say that Zelda was a creative soul and great talent on her own but that her mental illness destroyed her ability to become an artist in her own right. However, it was not just her mental illness that held her back, it was also her husband who saw her as a rival and as his own intellectual property.

According to Cline, Fitzgerald published his wife's stories unde rhis name without ant credit If you are a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, you should not read this book. For many years I have heard people say that Zelda was a creative soul and great talent on her own but that her mental illness destroyed her ability to become an artist in her own right. However, it was not just her mental illness that held her back, it was also her husband who saw her as a rival and as his own intellectual property.

According to Cline, Fitzgerald published his wife's stories unde rhis name without ant credit to her for her work. When he felt generous, he oublished her stories under both their names. He also used her ideas, her letters, her experiences and her direct quotes in his wriitng without crediting her in any way. In fact, Fitzgerald becomes less productive as Zelda becomes less sane and less able to provide this service to him.

In addition, to using her as a muse and an inspiration, Fitzgerald actively sabotaged her attempts to use her life and her experiences in her own writing. A novel based on her life was a direct threat to his writing project because that's what he was writing about and he couldn't allow her to compete openly with him.

This is not to say that Zelda was not seriously ill. She was obssessive and compulsive and manic in everything she did. Even her years as a flapper were an example of this. The reason she partied all the time was because whenever she had an interest, she fixated on it. When she painted, she painted 17 hours a day. When she danced, she danced 17 hours a day and when she partied, she partied 17 hours a day.

Cline is critical of her psychiatrist's attenpts to re-educate her. From their point of view, part of Zelda's illness was that she was not able to fulfill her role as a wife and mother as those roles were defined in the 1930's. This lead to her doctors colluding wiht her husband to suppress her creative ambiitons. However, even today, while we see gender slightly differently, one of the ways that we define mental illness is the inability of people to live according to the rules and customs of our culture. I am not implying that mental illness is completely a cultural construct but I am saying that we still treat mental illness by teaching people how to fit into our society.

It's possible that Zelda could have been a great artist (writer or painter or critic)if she had lived 40 or 50 years later than she did but she still would have struggled through her illness to be the person she wanted to be. Her husband's control her of creative outlet was only part of her problem. However, it's clear that Scott held her back and suppressed when he felt that her talents or her products competed with his interests. We will never know what Zelda could have been because the combination of her mental illness and the social mores of her times did not allow her to be Zelda in her own right. ...more
5

Jul 25, 2013

I just finished Sally Cline's "Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise." I would ignore all of the reviews that said this read like a text book or report on the life of Zelda. If you are used to reading biographies, it reads like a biography.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it was well researched and even handed. I think that she portrayed F.Scott in a way that his biographers never write about Zelda. They were both two troubled people who were toxic to one another. They both died well I just finished Sally Cline's "Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise." I would ignore all of the reviews that said this read like a text book or report on the life of Zelda. If you are used to reading biographies, it reads like a biography.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because it was well researched and even handed. I think that she portrayed F.Scott in a way that his biographers never write about Zelda. They were both two troubled people who were toxic to one another. They both died well before their time, but it seems in death that Zelda has suffered more than he has.

If you like F.Scott, you will not like Cline's portrayal of him. He is a petty, alcoholic, abusive, plagiarist and it really makes you reconsider his entire oeuvre. As a lit student I found it interesting the comparisons that Cline made between letters written to Scott from Zelda and passages from his works. The great line that Daisy (The Great Gatsby) says:

"I hope she'll be a fool--that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool... You see, I think everything's terrible anyhow... And I know. I've been everywhere and seen everything and done everything."

This is something Zelda said upon the birth of their own daughter Scottie. It wasn't just her speech that he stole. He stole her diaries, published works she wrote under his name, and used her psychic pain for his stories -- while oppressing her talents and creativity because he was afraid she would surpass him in literary fame.

Cline's book will also makes you hate Ernest Hemmingway because for a brief period F.Scott and Hemmingway were drinking buddies. Hemmingway quickly tired of both the Fitzgerald's antics, but he was openly cruel to Zelda. It also doesn't paint the nicest picture of Gertrude Stein.

Regardless, it is an excellently researched biography that tells an often neglected story and demystifies Zelda. ...more
2

Sep 15, 2015

Things I loved about this book:

The glamour and excitement of the Twenties.

Reliving the legendary romantic courtship that inspired THE GREAT GATSBY, my all-time favorite novel.

Watching Scott and Zelda break all the rules as the most celebrated couple in America.

Learning all about Zelda's Southern roots and the many, many, insane relatives in her family tree.


Things I hated about this book:

The author trying to turn spoiled, selfish, party-girl Zelda into some kind of feminist Joan of Arc.

The Things I loved about this book:

The glamour and excitement of the Twenties.

Reliving the legendary romantic courtship that inspired THE GREAT GATSBY, my all-time favorite novel.

Watching Scott and Zelda break all the rules as the most celebrated couple in America.

Learning all about Zelda's Southern roots and the many, many, insane relatives in her family tree.


Things I hated about this book:

The author trying to turn spoiled, selfish, party-girl Zelda into some kind of feminist Joan of Arc.

The author trying to turn poor, weak-willed, drunken F. Scott Fitzgerald into the ultimate male tyrant, somewhere between Henry VIII and Ike Turner.

The author trying to turn poor Zelda's tragic mental illness into some vague indictment of "the system."

The author taking endless cheap shots at Hemingway and Fitzgerald for getting drunk and saying mean things about women and "fairies."

The same insufferably self-righteous author saying absolutely nothing about Hemingway and Fitzgerald's well-documented hatred for Jews and Negroes, presumably because she would then have to address Zelda's feelings on the same touchy subject.

The author repeating everything Zelda's Alabama relatives ever said to her like it was gospel truth, when they obviously have reasons of their own for A.) Downplaying Zelda's insanity B.) Downplaying the ugliness of Jim Crow and lynch law in the Alabama of Zelda's childhood C.) Downplaying the obvious evidence that the rage and horror in Zelda's weird paintings and surrealistic writings has less to do with husband Scott's marital abuse than the ghastly memories of her unspeakable childhood traumas -- which are hinted at but never really discussed.

No matter how crazy or silly she got, Zelda Fitzgerald was never stuffy, never full of herself, and never pretended to be a saint. But Sally Cline, with no sense of humor and no sense of irony, does everything she can to turn the authentic, vibrant woman into a fake symbol of lily-white feminist martyrdom.

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5

Feb 02, 2015

Having read Nancy Milford's trailblazing biography, 'Zelda' and several on F. Scott, I was pleased to find Cline's book. It could not have been more finely researched, yet was imminently readable for the layman. The most important thing I found however, is that the book approaches Zelda as what she aspired to be : an artist, a dancer and a writer. I was shocked to find - and Cline has proof - that Zelda was such an accomplished author that many of her stories were published nearly verbatim under Having read Nancy Milford's trailblazing biography, 'Zelda' and several on F. Scott, I was pleased to find Cline's book. It could not have been more finely researched, yet was imminently readable for the layman. The most important thing I found however, is that the book approaches Zelda as what she aspired to be : an artist, a dancer and a writer. I was shocked to find - and Cline has proof - that Zelda was such an accomplished author that many of her stories were published nearly verbatim under Scott's name or with him listed as co-writer. That his representatives, Max Perkins and Harold Ober, were complicit in this was explained away as financial decisions, in that Scott's name was worth so much more than her's. As a writer myself, even accouting for the prevailing societal norm of women as mothers and housewives, I could imagine that this treatment would be just as psychologically challenging for me as it ultimately was for Zelda. It's fairly well known that Scott lifted many passages from Zelda's diaries and letters. But for an eye opening look into what extent her work was discounted while being stolen, this book gives a newly-squared account of just how this marriage, and Zelda's mental health, disintegrated. ...more
4

Mar 08, 2016

Not an easy book to read, the legendary Zelda Fitzgerald--American flapper, high priestess of the Jazz Age, blonde Southern bombshell in Paris--is only a very small part of her very sad life. Most of her adult life she spent alone, controlled by doctors and her husband, receiving truly horrific treatments that would put her into a coma for weeks at a time. She died in a psychiatric hospital when it caught on fire and she was chained into her room on the top floor. In writing this biography Cline Not an easy book to read, the legendary Zelda Fitzgerald--American flapper, high priestess of the Jazz Age, blonde Southern bombshell in Paris--is only a very small part of her very sad life. Most of her adult life she spent alone, controlled by doctors and her husband, receiving truly horrific treatments that would put her into a coma for weeks at a time. She died in a psychiatric hospital when it caught on fire and she was chained into her room on the top floor. In writing this biography Cline had access to a lot of records that were previously sealed, these documents seem to provide a new and terribly tragic view of Zelda Fitzgerald, and a not very flattering one of Scott. She was a talented writer, painter, and dancer in her own right, but was unable to assert herself publicly or privately, partly due to a Southern upbringing, partly due to the society of the time, and a lot to do with Scott on purpose silencing her, censoring her, and when she still tried to write about her own experiences, he literally shut her up in mental hospitals, ordered the doctors to drug her senseless, and then demanded that any of their shared experiences--in life, marriage, parenthood, or with her mental illnesses, were HIS property, alone, to use in literary works. He often directly quoted her letters and dialogue in his stories, he published her work under his name and used the proceeds to pay off his debts, he was an unstable alcoholic and a terrible father and husband...and Zelda received the brunt of his behavior her entire adult life.

This whole book read, to me, like an independent girl desperately trying to just EXIST outside of the shadow of her more famous husband, only he refused not only to share the spotlight, but to allow her anything outside of the role he preferred she play (devoted muse to his artistry). His actions surrounding her being confined to asylums was particularly nasty, the "treatments" she received most likely caused the bulk of her psychosis and certainly significantly contributed to her instability. Poor, poor Zelda. I loathe Scott's behavior and treatment of her as some kind of controllable, performing pet instead of a full-fledged human with her own ideas, needs, and aspirations. I resent the society that legally allowed him such power and the medical system he didn't even have to manipulate in order to knowingly destroy his wife, while his alcoholism, abuse, and unchecked egotism remained perfectly "normal" because, you know, he was a man. Ugh. ...more
4

May 05, 2019

Most Fitzgerald biographies (of either party) usually take sides in the seemingly eternal War of the Roses that was their spectacular, doomed marriage. This writer pledged to remain neutral, and for the most part, I think she succeeded. I even learned a few things I didn't previously know, which is saying something.
0

Jul 28, 2011

The cover of the book says "Succeeds in breathing new life into this jazz-age icon...." It does not. This book is chock full of facts and the interesting ones are found mixed in with an annual list of how much money Scott made and how much they paid in rent. This book reads like a textbook. You learn everything there is to learn about the couple but there is no life in this book.



Reading this qualified me to write a book report that my middle school teacher would love.



Zelda's life was very The cover of the book says "Succeeds in breathing new life into this jazz-age icon...." It does not. This book is chock full of facts and the interesting ones are found mixed in with an annual list of how much money Scott made and how much they paid in rent. This book reads like a textbook. You learn everything there is to learn about the couple but there is no life in this book.



Reading this qualified me to write a book report that my middle school teacher would love.



Zelda's life was very interesting and that is the only reason I trudged all the way through this book. I found nothing of Zelda Sayre Fitzgeralds voice in the book - quotes from her friends and observations from the author but not her. I felt no closeness to the subject.

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3

Jan 05, 2008

Very detailed and fairly recent autobiography of Zelda Fitzgerald, detailing her life and supposed madness. She was diagnosed as schizophrenic, but I think that she was just very ahead of her time and said some things that were just unusual and not crazy. If she was in any way "crazy," at most, Scott made her neurotic with his drinking and philandering.
3

Apr 01, 2013

Well researched but terribly written. Very hard to get through.
3

Apr 24, 2013

Having read and loved Therese Anne Fowler's novel Z, I found myself wanting to learn more about Zelda. While I didn't love this author's style of writing, the material was fascinating. These poor, tragic characters had it all...and summarily lost it all. I have to say that Scott was horrible to Zelda, although he supported and loved her until the end. Such a strange, tortured relationship.
4

Feb 10, 2010

Such a fascinating and tragic story. Really changes my views of Scott. I appreciate how the author made Zelda's southern-ness (sp?) central to understanding her character.
5

Mar 08, 2008

i love love love love zelda. she was so nutty nut and not at all the uninhibited flapper girl i had always thought. she got obsessions in her head and took them over the edge - total OCD girl.
2

Jun 08, 2015

I loved reading about Zelda's life. I read the kindle version and it was filled with typos, poor punctuation, and misspelled words. I gave the book only two stars for that reason only.
4

Aug 08, 2011

Excellent academic study of Zelda & her dominance by Scott.
4

Jul 07, 2013

I enjoyed this book very much. It definitely told Zelda's side. She was a talented artist,and dedicated her life to the ballet. She also could write. She helped and inspired her husband to write his stories. Sad that she spent so much time in institutions. Tragic ending.
3

Aug 27, 2014

This book is okay. She presents a few rumors about Zelda as fact (the abortions, etc). It makes me not trust the author when they do that, of course. I like Zelda: a biography, by Nancy Mitford much better. It's more well written.
2

Dec 17, 2014

Overly wordy and poorly researched biography of Zelda Fitzgerald. A glaring mistake was when Cline wrote that famous poet Sylvia Plath suffered mental anguish during Zelda Fitzgerald's lifetime. Hello..... Fitzgerald died in the 1940's when Plath was a child! Try Nancy Mitford's far superior Zelda instead!
3

May 28, 2013

If you are looking for a juicy read into Zelda Fitzgerald's life this is not it. That being said, I did learn a lot about her and her tragic life. It was truly tragic. However, this biography of her reads like a research paper and by the time you are through with all of the footnotes and tedious detail, you simply no longer care about her--and this is a shame.
2

Aug 14, 2014

I found this book tedious and frustrating. I wanted to know more about Zelda Fitzgerald, who the author clearly found fascinating. Unfortunately Sally Cline hid Zelda in the details. There were so many redundant references to both Fitzgeralds' writings, and theories given endless source citations, the book seemed more like a scholarly thesis than a biography. I did appreciate that the book was well researched (thus two stars rather than one). The book would have benefitted from a better appendix I found this book tedious and frustrating. I wanted to know more about Zelda Fitzgerald, who the author clearly found fascinating. Unfortunately Sally Cline hid Zelda in the details. There were so many redundant references to both Fitzgeralds' writings, and theories given endless source citations, the book seemed more like a scholarly thesis than a biography. I did appreciate that the book was well researched (thus two stars rather than one). The book would have benefitted from a better appendix for all the extra source material and editing for content. ...more
4

Nov 11, 2011

Utterly devastating. The life of Zelda Fitzgerald is wonderfully fascinating and makes for a great read. The author has created a through line of illustrating the injustices done to Zelda who was a true artist who did not fit in to the typical housewife mold and was basically locked up because of it. It is very well researched and at times the authors tone can be a bit too over the top with her grievance with Zelda's husband Scott. Reading about how she was hospitalized and misdiagnosed with Utterly devastating. The life of Zelda Fitzgerald is wonderfully fascinating and makes for a great read. The author has created a through line of illustrating the injustices done to Zelda who was a true artist who did not fit in to the typical housewife mold and was basically locked up because of it. It is very well researched and at times the authors tone can be a bit too over the top with her grievance with Zelda's husband Scott. Reading about how she was hospitalized and misdiagnosed with schizophrenia was difficult, especially her tragic death. ...more
5

Jan 14, 2013

Took me forever to read this book as I picked it up, read a chapter, put it down for another lighter "read", but so happy I stuck with it. The problem I had with it was her tortured marriage to the narcissistic Scott how would never recognize her talents or allow her to accept the recognition she deserved. Everything she wrote had to have his name listed as the author or with both of their names listed! GRRR! She was so talented as a painter, writer, dancer, etc and Sally Cline did a beautiful Took me forever to read this book as I picked it up, read a chapter, put it down for another lighter "read", but so happy I stuck with it. The problem I had with it was her tortured marriage to the narcissistic Scott how would never recognize her talents or allow her to accept the recognition she deserved. Everything she wrote had to have his name listed as the author or with both of their names listed! GRRR! She was so talented as a painter, writer, dancer, etc and Sally Cline did a beautiful job of documenting her talents. Sad, sad, sad but interesting! She was tough having survived all of the shock treatments and insulin treatments as well as experimental drugs while confined to mental hospitals. With friends like Zelda had, she was needed no enemies!!! Well written and very well documents with 1/4 of the book devoted to her notes. ...more
4

Jan 14, 2019

An interesting biography of an iconic figure from the roaring 20's. It cannot help but be a twin biography of both Zelda and F. Scott, but in this book, Zelda is the heroine, and F. Scott comes off in a mostly poor light. It has a lot of interesting details about the 1920s and 30s, including the small subset of people who had the means to spend gobs of money partying and traveling abroad, treatments and thoughts about mental illness in the 30s and the prevailing views on men's and women's roles An interesting biography of an iconic figure from the roaring 20's. It cannot help but be a twin biography of both Zelda and F. Scott, but in this book, Zelda is the heroine, and F. Scott comes off in a mostly poor light. It has a lot of interesting details about the 1920s and 30s, including the small subset of people who had the means to spend gobs of money partying and traveling abroad, treatments and thoughts about mental illness in the 30s and the prevailing views on men's and women's roles in marriage during the time. It was fascinating to learn about both of their publishing careers and how much F. Scott used the talents of his wife to further his own career, the professional career in the family. The friendship of F. Scott and Hemingway was also interesting reading.

Every author has a bias that creeps into the narrative, and I found Sally Cline's to be her opinion that Zelda's artistic abilities were squelched by a jealous F. Scott, and that his drinking was the major cause of her mental breakdown. It felt like a bit of the 21st century's judgement on a different time period. Here were two wild people who seemed to revel in shocking everyone around them, including friends. They both suffered from different mental health issues, one alcoholism and the other, mental breakdowns that were probably something other than schizophrenia. Their stories are intertwined and their love is romantic. Because of this book, I wanted to know more about Zelda's paintings and so looked up another book on her art in order to see what it was like. ...more
3

Jun 19, 2017

This bio gets 5 stars for story/scholarship and 1 star for the poor quality of the online library version I read via the usually excellent Hoopla. They averaged out to 3.

First, the good: Biographies don't usually make me feel sad over the tragedy of a life. Yet that's how I felt reading this. (I picked it up after starting to watch Z on Amazon.) So much internal and external destruction. I plan to seek out Zelda's writings and have already looked up her artwork online. I can't help but wonder This bio gets 5 stars for story/scholarship and 1 star for the poor quality of the online library version I read via the usually excellent Hoopla. They averaged out to 3.

First, the good: Biographies don't usually make me feel sad over the tragedy of a life. Yet that's how I felt reading this. (I picked it up after starting to watch Z on Amazon.) So much internal and external destruction. I plan to seek out Zelda's writings and have already looked up her artwork online. I can't help but wonder what she'd have been like if born 50 or 75 years later. I also wonder how many other women artists were stifled by the cultural mores of Zelda's era.

The not-so-good: The online version was riddled with formatting errors that resulted in a great deal of missing and/or misplaced punctuation.

...more
5

Aug 12, 2019

As a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and somewhat familiar with snippets of his own life story, this was a deeply disturbing and very sad read for me, but I felt more appreciative of Zelda, also. At one point I had to walk away from it briefly because I was so overwhelmed by emotion and what Zelda was going through. It’s going to take me a while to get over this and really process it. Probably not the best time to write a review and I may revisit/edit this later... It was an interesting read in As a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and somewhat familiar with snippets of his own life story, this was a deeply disturbing and very sad read for me, but I felt more appreciative of Zelda, also. At one point I had to walk away from it briefly because I was so overwhelmed by emotion and what Zelda was going through. It’s going to take me a while to get over this and really process it. Probably not the best time to write a review and I may revisit/edit this later... It was an interesting read in terms of the times and history the Fitzgeralds were a part of. One wonders what might have been had they made it to old age and different times. ...more

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