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Bianca Barrett, the protagonist and daughter of a Welsh Surveyor and his Palestinian wife, becomes an “ambitious and mercenary” social climber and double murderess. Charming and well educated, Bianca marries four times and advances in wealth and social influence. With Bernardo, her first husband, Bianca has three children; they lose their son in a tragic car accident. After a divorce, she marries the rich Fredie whose family owns the Piedraplata commercial empire. Before it comes to a divorce, the second husband is shot and killed by a hitman who makes it look like a suicide. The killing is arranged by her lover, Phillipe Mahfud, and Bianca becomes the financial beneficiary. After a brief marriage to husband number three, – she had married him only to make Mahfud jealous-, she lastly marries Mahfud, a superrich Iraqi businessman and banker. When their relationship sours, the banker dies with his nurse in a mysterious fire in his apartment in the tax haven of Andorra. Bianca’s lawyers pay off the police and investigators, and the only justice that remains is in the court of public opinion.
Guilty or not guilty? Murder. A Beautiful Socialite Wife. Two Dead Rich Husbands. Billion-Dollar Fortune. Who could resist such a scrumptious story? I know I can’t. A roman a clef about the life of one of the richest women in the world, Empress Bianca is a novel that was banned for publication because of billionairess Lily Safra, the real woman the main character was based on, used all her resources and conceivable powers and stopped the novel from being printed and circulated for public consumption, more specifically, for the consumption of the international creme dela creme–the rarified social and economic circles of fund-raising socialites, and empire-building billionaires in which Lily moves.
To better understand why the book was so controversial, an excerpt from Wikipedia reads, in part: “Empress Bianca, the first novel by Lady Colin Campbell, was initially published in June, 2005. One month later, Arcadia Books, the British publisher, withdrew the book and pulped all unsold copies in reaction to a legal threat intiated on behalf of Lily Safra under her interpretation that the book was a defamatory roman a clef. After some changes the book was republished in the United States in 2008 by Dynasty Press.”
After reading the novel, I decided to get a copy of the autobiography of Mrs. Safra, Gilded Lily by Isabel Vincent. I must say that I am convinced that Bianca is Lily under the facade of fiction. But you’ll have to read both books to see what I mean. Well, fiction or nonfiction, as the case may well be, Empress Bianca is a novel that portrays the life of the fashionable set through the lucid prose of Lady Colin — the characters are relatable, story wonderfully crafted and told. In fact, there is one character I could especially relate to — Bianca’s second husband, Ferdinand Piedraplata. He’s manic-depressive like me. It’s one of those characters with whom you can identify yourself with because you are him. It was as if Lady Colin was describing me and telling my story (well, except for the dead and supper rich part).
If you are someone who likes to read social headlines or wants to know what goes in and out of the world of social-climbing murderesses, Type A bankers, and mercurial entrepreneurs, you will love this book. Alluring, charming, and scathing, Empress Bianca incredibly captures the world of a woman who has risen from a middle-class background to the uppermost echelons of international society by marrying two fabulously wealthy men, and quite possibly, by killing them, too. She might have never been tried for the controversial deaths (or murders) of her husbands, but that does make her any less innocent? A tale of intrigue, mystery, and crime of epic proportions, Empress Bianca is an “unputdownable” pageturner that will leave you wanting for a sequel.
Rating: 5 of 5 stars