DeAnn Owens
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Book Review: ‘The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel’ by Marie Benedict

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Marie Benedict The Only Woman in the Room: A Novel
Photo: The News Wheel

Actress. Inventor. Scientist. Beauty. All of these words can be used to describe Hedy Lamarr, who comes alive in the pages of Marie Benedict’s book, The Only Woman in the Room: a novel.

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Born in Austria, Hedwig Kiesler fled her abusive arms-dealing husband, Friedrich Mandl (Fritz), in a movie-worthy act of deception and the dangers of World War II. Eventually, she made her way to the United States. Abandoning her acting career on the Austrian stage when she married, Kiesler was able to reignite her career in Hollywood and signed with MGM, where she was renamed, Hedy Lamarr.

While working in film, though, Lamarr could not escape the horrors of WWII. Worried about her homeland and her mother, she was determined to do something to end the war. She felt guilty about being safe in the U.S. and leaving others behind in Vienna. She also felt deep regret about not sharing the secrets she learned while being the “only woman in the room” while her husband and prominent military officials discussed military maneuvers and plans.

Absorbing every detail from the dangerous men around her, she learned of Hitler’s abhorrent plans for the Jewish people as well as some of the struggles the military faced, such as its inability to accurately pinpoint the location of submarines and the role radio frequencies played in military attacks.

Lamarr was compelled to “shorten the war,” even more after the Nazis sunk the SS Benares, a passenger ship carrying nearly 100 British children on route to safety in Canada. Lamarr, who adopted a son to save him from the horrors of war, could not sit by and do nothing after this unspeakable tragedy. She enlisted help from her friend, composer George Antheil, and convinced him to help her with her invention of a radio-guided torpedo system that used radio frequencies the enemy couldn’t jam.

I won’t go into specifics about the invention and the frustrating process they went through because I want you to read Benedict’s novel, but basically Lamarr’s invention set the groundwork for the tech you use every day to move about in the world. Every time you connect to a Wi-Fi signal, navigate with GPS or access Bluetooth in your car, you have the brilliant Lamarr to thank.

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Although Benedict only covers a small-yet-momentous period of Lamarr’s life, as a reader I was captivated by every word. If you enjoy historical fiction, this is a fantastic read about an inspiring woman determined to defy expectations.