Tag: biography

Review: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher is best known for her role in the Star Wars franchise as the iconic Princess Leia.  Many of us who are now adults spent long hours of our childhood pretending to be characters in the Star Wars universe.  Whether we were the snarky Princess escaping the clutches of the evil Lord Vader, the equally snarky and jaded smuggler Han Solo, or even the wise and stoic Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars left an indelible mark on our formative years.  (Except for the prequels – those don’t actually exist)

What fewer people realize though is that in addition to being an accomplished actress, Fisher was also a prolific author.  Given the impact of Star Wars on my own childhood, and the recent revelation of Fisher’s affair with Harrison Ford during the filming of the original movie, I was excited to acquire a copy of Fisher’s The Princess Diarist.  Soon after came the news of Fisher’s sudden death, making her most recent book her final book.

Fisher opens her memoir with a recap of highlights from 1976, the year she began filming A New Hope.  A number of things happened in 1976, Fisher notes.  Apple was founded, Interview with a Vampire was first published, and U2 was formed.  It was also a year of significant world events including Jimmy Carter beating Gerald Ford in the Presidential election and Son of Sam killing his first victim.  Finally, it was the prelude to the year in which Fisher feels her life radically changed forever.

Before auditioning for Star Wars, Fisher played a minor role in Shampoo.  Having grown up in a Hollywood household as the daughter of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie Fisher comments that at the time the last thing she thought she wanted to do was go into show business.  Nevertheless, she auditioned for Shampoo on a lark, thinking at 17, that it would be exciting to be wanted by Warren Beatty “in any capacity at all.”  She got the role and went back to living at home, hoping that perhaps she would be able to soon move out now that she was “hip”.

Two years later, having dropped out of high school and bored with college, Fisher auditioned for Star Wars while home on Christmas break.

George Lucas and Brian De Palma held joint auditions for Carrie and Star Wars. Fisher auditioned for both – originally hoping for Carrie over Star Wars because she thought “Carrie in Carrie would be a casting coup.”

DePalma primarily led the auditions as Lucas sat mostly mute, simply observing.  After stumbling through the seemingly inane questions of “I see you were in Shampoo, how was it working with Warren Beatty?” and revealing that she would drop out of college if given either role, Fisher was convinced she had bombed the audition.  Much to her amazement, however, her agent called her a couple of weeks later with the news that she had been cast.

At the start of filming, Fisher recalls trying to remain under the radar so that nobody would notice that she had not lost the 10 pounds that were part of her casting contract.  She muses that the now famous Princess Leia hairdo may have been used in part to keep her face from looking too big.

Fisher then dives into what she dubs “Carrison”:  i.e. her three month long affair with Harrison Ford.  Fisher starts by stating that she had spent so long not talking about the affair that it was hard to know where to begin talking about it now and in fact her thoughts on it are somewhat reticent and disjointed.

The affair began, she reveals, in the back of a taxi on the same night Ford rescued her from some crew members who had purposefully set about to get her drunk as a prank.  They had intense and frequent sex on the weekends while studiously ignoring each other during the week.

Although Fisher admits she entered into the movie with the idea of having an affair with a crew member or cast mate, she was surprised that it became Ford given that he was married at the time, and she had intense feelings of guilt over that issue.

Fisher writes with a style that is conversational but rambling.  She begins passages on one thought, finds another thought in the middle, and finally, ends on yet a third thought.  While her recollections are humorous, I found her style to be rather labyrinthine and as a result frequently re-read passages in an effort to keep track.

A vast portion of the middle of the book contains transcriptions of the diaries Fisher kept during her time filming the movie.  In these, she reveals a deeply insecure young woman who was extremely conflicted about her relationship with Ford.  In one entry, she laments her penchant for inaccessible men noting previous experimentation with gay men and then men whom she knew would treat her poorly.  In another, she notes that she thinks Ford is boring which he tries to make look deliberate as if he is “the strong silent type.”  Eventually, towards the end, she admits that she is falling for him hard and muses that things might have gone better for her if she had fallen for Mark Hamill instead.

At first reading, these entries seemed like the melodramatic over the top lamentations of a teenager.  Then, thinking about it, I realized that is exactly what they were as Fisher was not quite 20 during filming.  She may have been finally telling the story as a 60 year old, but the feelings and thoughts were still that of her 19 year old self.  Given that, it was easier to understand her perspective and even smile a little bit at the heightened drama.

While the book starts off slowly, it improves as Fisher eventually figures out what she wants to say and actually says it.

Fans of Fisher’s previous works such as Postcards from the Edge or Wishful Drinking will likely enjoy The Princess Diarist.  Fisher employs the same conversational tone in each and reveals much of her struggles with poor self-image and becoming permanently tied to the role of Princess Leia at such a young age.

Some readers may be put off by her snarky and sarcastic descriptions of fan interactions, while others may cringe good naturedly and recognize a bit of themselves at fan conventions or autograph signings.

Overall, The Princess Diarist is a quick and somewhat enjoyable read with several moments which will evoke feelings of poignancy in light of Fisher’s now posthumous telling.



Review: Books for your book club

Book clubs have increased considerably in popularity over the last few years.  Oprah’s picks acted as a catalyst, and now nearly every book store has a section devoted to them.  With that in mind, I picked three books with a strong female lead that your book club may have overlooked.

In the Land of Invisible Woman is the memoir of Qanta Ahmed, a Western-trained Muslim doctor.  When her visa to remain in the United States is unexpectedly denied, Ahmed impulsively accepts a position at a hospital in Saudi Arabia.  A self-described secular Muslim, Ahmed sees this offer as an opportunity to delve deeper into her heritage and to learn more about the Muslim faith.

Ahmed admits that she is naive regarding the complications of living in the Saudi Kingdom. Though aware of the strict Sharia law, she finds that her western medical training left her unprepared for situations such as treating a woman who is comatose but must remain veiled or trying to accurately assess a woman’s heart rate through her abaya.  Angry at what she sees as female oppression, she begins to see ways in which women have learned to turn their oppression into their own form of self expression, displaying their beauty through colorful fabrics and intricately embroidered patterns.  In addition, the women take great care to ensure their makeup is perfect beneath their veiled faces.  They are determined to allow themselves to feel beautiful for their own sake even if no man beyond their husbands will see the results.

As a reader, I found myself fascinated by this autobiography.  Ahmed’s descriptions of the people she met left me feeling as if I were meeting them alongside her.  Her experiences of rediscovering her Muslim faith through a pilgrimage to Mecca reminded me of accounts of Jewish and Christian journeys to Israel.

Although the narrative was choppy in places and several events which seemed important were never elaborated on, I did thoroughly enjoy In the Land of Invisible Women and seeing Ahmed’s experiences through her eyes.


The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Sutterfield follows the paths of Vida Winter, a famous but reclusive novelist, and Margaret Lea, a spinster and amateur biographer who has devoted her life to her father and his book shop.

Winter has given only a handful of interviews in her career, all of them full of self-admitted lies or fanciful stories.  Lea has grown up working in her father’s shop, experiencing very little of life outside of books.  One day when she is a child of ten years, she discovers that she had been born as a conjoined twin and that her sister had died.  This discovery separates her even further from her already distant mother and explains the sense of incompletion and longing Lea has always felt.

Years later, a grown Lea receives a letter from Winter requesting Lea’s services as a biographer.  While mulling over this decision, Lea decides to read one of Winter’s books called Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation only to discover that the thirteenth tale is missing.  Lea quickly agrees to be Winter’s biographer in hopes of solving the mystery of the missing tale.  Along the way, Lea begins to uncover not only the secrets of Ms. Winter’s past but also of her own.

Written in the same vein as classic gothic literature, fans of Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters will very much enjoy The Thirteenth Tale.  I found myself making frequent and favorable comparisons to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.  Winter allows no questions but requires Lea to simply listen, and so the story unfolds.  With each revelation, I found myself anxious to know what came next, and in the end I felt I knew each character as intimately as if they had been characters in my own life.

I have always been a fan of the gothic literature genre, and I felt that that Sutterfield did an excellent job of writing in this style.  In addition, the characters felt like living breathing people. I could imagine Lea’s parents and visualize the shop she worked in.  Finally, the storyline moved at a well balanced pace that was just fast enough to keep the reader intrigued but not so much that the resolution was given away before the end.


Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel told through a series of short stories.  Set in the small town of Crosby, Maine, each story features a different character whose lives are gradually interwoven.  Throughout the novel, the titular character, Olive Kitteridge, remains a central figure who is both revered and reviled.

On the surface, Olive appears overbearing and even a bit uncaring.  Her relationship with her husband has gradually become strained as they navigate the waters of realizing the person you married is not the person they have become.  Henry remains a steadfast churchgoer while Olive has become an unapologetic atheist.  Both enter into emotional affairs and struggle with honoring the committment they once made.  Although she smothers her son Christopher and continually pits him against his father, Olive has little time for what she perceives as nonsense.  The result is a woman who speaks her mind when she shouldn’t and doesn’t speak up when perhaps she should.

While each story is not specifically about Olive, she does appear in each of them.  As we learn each character’s story, we also learn more about the town and Olive’s impact on the people within.  To some she is little more than a peripheral character, while to others she looms almost larger than life.

Readers who enjoy works by authors such as Alice Munro or Joan Sibler will find similarities in Olive Kitteridge.  In addition, Strout’s depictions of small town life reminded me of John Irving’s The Cider House Rules.  

The depictions of living in a small northeastern town reminded me of my own experiences growing up in a small town, and of stories my mother would tell of her childhood in Upstate New York.  Strout’s characters are so real that the reader will be certain they’ve met some of them before.  While I enjoyed the overall tone and storyline of the book, a couple of the stories felt thrown in for the sake of filling space.  It is telling of Strout’s characterization that these stories are the ones in which Olive is a mere mention rather than a pivotal figure.


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