Nicholas Gage's meticulously documented and consistently absorbing account chronicles the stormy love affair between Maria Callas (1923-77) and Aristotle Onassis (1906-75). Gage sees the soprano who reinvented the art of opera and the tycoon who transformed the shipping industry as kindred spirits, drawn into romance by a deep connection to their Greek origins and a shared sense that, despite all they had achieved, something was missing. They found that absent element in a once-in-a-lifetime passion, which Onassis betrayed by marrying Jacqueline Kennedy in 1968. Gage appears to share the view of the tycoon's Greek coterie, who viewed this marriage as an act of hubris that inevitably led to financial and personal reversals which embittered Onassis in his final years. But he doesn't blame the tycoon for Callas's decline, pointing out that by the time they met, she was already experiencing severe vocal problems and was eager for respite from her taxing performance commitments. In any case, her career and his business dealings take a back seat here to Gage's evocative portrait of his subjects' outsized personalities and the jet-set society in the gaudy postwar years. Some of the new information is revelatory, particularly Gage's persuasive contention that Callas bore Onassis a son who died hours after his birth in 1960. At other times his investigative-journalist approach seems too weighty for this highly personal story of love, rage, and big, big egos. Fortunately, these lapses don't seriously mar a text distinguished by smooth prose, the seamless interweaving of several narrative strands, and a warm sympathy for its genuinely tragic protagonists. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Arguing that previous books about Maria Callas (1923-1977) and Aristotle Onassis (1904-1975) are full of errors, investigative reporter Gage (Eleni) attempts to set the record straight on the couple's birth dates, where they first met, when they first slept together and many other details of their ill-starred love affair. His most interesting revelation, based on Callas's private papers and statements by her maid and butler, is that instead of the abortion Callas said Onassis forced her to have in 1966, she actually had a "secret son," a baby, conceived at the beginning of their affair in 1959, who died the day he was born. Gage gives an exhaustive account of the infamous three-week cruise on which the much-publicized liaison began, accounting for each meeting between the opera diva and the shipping tycoon, what they said, what they ate and wore, and how the other passengers, including Callas's husband and Onassis's wife, reacted to the developing scandal as they sailed along the Greek and Turkish coasts on Onassis's opulent yacht. The author asserts that the lovers were drawn together in large part by their shared Greek heritage, and he equates their mutual passion with "Greek Fire," the all-consuming incendiary substance used in battle by the warships of the Byzantine empire. Unfortunately, the book, laden with excess detail, fails to emanate the same heat. So much has already been written about the affair that, even though the particulars may change and new facts are found, the story is all too familiar, especially the depressing endingAthe aging tycoon marrying Jackie Kennedy instead of Callas and immediately regretting it, and the prescription-drug-dependent diva living as a recluse in Paris, still in love with Onassis but refusing to accept him again as a lover. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
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