I received this book as an ARC from the author, Ralph Webster, as a member of Rosie Amber’s book review team, #RBRT.
I gave The Other Mrs Samson 3.5* out of 5*.
Surviving two wars, sharing one husband, searching for answers.
A hidden compartment in a black lacquer cabinet left in an attic reveals the secrets of two incredible women: Hilda, born and raised in one of the wealthiest Jewish families in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and Katie, whose early life in Germany is marked by tragedy and death. Their lives are forever entwined by their love of the same man, the brilliant and compassionate Dr. Josef Samson.
From the earliest, rough-and-tumble days of San Francisco, through the devastation of the Great War in Berlin and the terrors of Vichy France, and then to a new yet uncertain life in New York City, their stories span the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. In the end, one of these women will complete the life of the other and make a startling discovery about the husband they share.
I chose The Other Mrs Samson because it covered both historical and memoir genres. It’s a story that stretches through decades and settings; from the middle of the nineteenth century to the time of the First World War, the mid twentieth century and World War Two to the present era, and from the United States, to Germany and France.
The book’s appeal to me was the description of the intriguing, yet so different, life and love stories of two women for one man with so many settings across a great spread of years. I was keen to start reading the book.
But I struggled with it. And I have struggled to review it as well.
There is no doubt whatsoever that the author has carried out extensive research to provide a background to the story: the Jewish community in San Francisco at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century, conditions in WW1, the growth of Nazism and the dreadful effect on the Jewish people.There is much detail about the politics of the time and the impact on the economics of the societies, the suffering caused through the conditions during the great wars.
And we follow the stories of the two women, Hilda and Katie Samson, who, in different decades, both meet and then marry the same man, Dr. Josef Samson. These are recounted through papers that were found by the narrator in a secret compartment in a black lacquer cabinet; the memoirs of Katie, a friend of the narrator.
The novel relates the difference between the two women, their lives and their emotions; their reactions to events. And this is where I had the problem. Let me say that I enjoyed the start of the book; the finding of the papers and, to a much greater extent; Hilda’s story, which was fascinating. But the enjoyment palled slightly when I came to the story of Katie. Where I felt the narrator’s words brought of the character of the first Mrs Samson alive on the page, for me it wasn’t the same with the second. Initially, I was engrossed in Katie’s tragic early life, set against the so-called decadence of the twenties, the economic downfall in America, the insidious evil of the Nazi party in Germany. As I said earlier, the reader learns so much of the conditions throughout the world, but I also felt the all characters became less rounded, almost an after thought, in the telling of their stories. And, I’m afraid, the author lost me; I skipped through many pages ( then went back to read, because I didn’t think I’d given it a fair shot). It’s not something I normally do, and certainly not something I’m proud of, but it felt almost like an historical explanation of what was happening.in the world rather that following the characters.
I think my problem with The Second Mrs Samson is that I like character driven stories. And I felt that Ralph Webster missed a chance to develop both the main and some minor characters in his quest to write such a brilliantly detailed historical setting.
But, after all, reviews are always subjective and I would recommend The Second Mrs Samson to readers who enjoy historical novels.