The author who goes by the name of Vanda (one word, like Cher) is a playwright and her fast-paced writing had me the turning pages as I learned about gay culture with accurate historical references." — Janet Mason, The Huffington Post, June 2016
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“Juliana” by Vanda is a Historical Fiction novel about LGBT people in the 1940s. It’s not very often that a work of fiction will really speak to my heart, but this book certainly did. I found myself feeling heartbroken, furious, embarrassed, and enticed all through the eyes of the first person narrator, Al.... The author’s greatest strength in this book is the characters. Each one has a very distinct personality to the point that I periodically forgot that these are not real people. It’s the type of book that makes you forget that you are just reading. — Kitkat3, OnlineBookClub, 7/10/17Read the full review
"… captures the fear, excitement, and eroticism of a young lesbian's awakening in the the 1940s." — Kirkus ReviewsRead the full review
"Vanda creates a historical novel about a time period in which we know very little about queerness—WWII... Vanda's narratives, prowess of timely language and setting and character development lend a poignant message: to be queer was to be anti-American." — July Westhale, Lambda Literary ReviewRead the full review
"Juliana is the opening act in a series of stories that will cover, discover and recover LGBT history.... Vanda's clean-shave style in Juliana amplifies the creative ways in which lesbians and gays in the 1940s compartmentalized their identities like meals at an automat.....I can't wait for the next edition of yestergays' news to come out" — Alison Fradkin, Curve MagazineRead the full review
"Juliana is a captivating piece of history and romance, a time capsule that captures all of the tumult and thrill of wartime America in the early 1940s." — IndieReader, June 30, 2016
"Imagine the first songbird crush you had—for me it was k.d. lang—and then imagine that person seducing you. Put on some Irving Berlin tunes, take your heart into the songs of the 1940s, open Juliana and let the magic begin." — Roberta Arnold, Sinister Wisdom Summer, 2016
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Reviewed by Roberta Arnold
Imagine the first songbird crush you had—for me it was k. d. lang—and then imagine she is out to seduce you. Put on some Irving Berlin tunes, take your heart into the songs of the 1940s, open Juliana, and let the magic begin. Juliana tells Al’s story: a young white butch coming out and coming of age in 1940s Greenwich Village, New York City, amidst a lively theatre world. Juliana is the songbird of Al’s dreams: manipulative, talented, rich, beautiful, sophisticated, and unapproachable in Al’s eyes. The working class struggle is as much a part of the progression forward for Al as is the realization of her sexuality. Al is from the sticks outside New York City: Huntingdon, Long Island. When Al moves into the city with childhood friends to fulfill the dream of being in the theater, her head swims seeing the places, plays, and actors that she idolized. The gay nightclub scene bubbles up during a time when you could be arrested—or worse—for being gay or for being a woman dressed in men’s clothes.
The forward to Juliana is important as the book itself. It gives readers a synopsis of the historic progression of gay lives—where once again women’s chronicling is more hidden. Told in the colloquial voice of Al, Juliana captures gay and straight lives as they intersect and run obstacles around each other in this world of theatre, war, and prejudice. Abundantly rich in dialogue, it is easy to imagine watching Juliana, rather than reading the book as a performance piece. My only qualm about Juliana is that the author uses the hurtful prejudicial words of that time period in order to “be accurate for its time,” albeit with apology and explanation in the forward. I know we can show those prejudices without having to repeat the exact dialogue. Nevertheless, the book reads like a fast romp through our history in downtown nightclub society; I’m looking forward to the Harlem inclusion as the story continues.
In one memorable scene, Al is making love to Juliana over (or in this case under) a café table where they are sipping cappuccinos. After Juliana climaxes, Al’s need to follow Juliana back to her place, where presumably she will take care of Al, depicts Al’s internal struggle with the social influence of the time:
I knew I shouldn’t go. I knew I’d be sending myself to the depths of hell where red hot flames would leap at my feet. But I wanted to go. I wanted to go running straight into that hell. And I didn’t care about finishing my cappuccino. I wanted to go right away (277).
Sexual tension and biting repartee amongst a consummate cabaret crowd are the powerful draws of this book. The steamy sex scenes, although old school, ring true with a measured tempo reminiscent of those 1940s songs. A cabaret version of the book is now playing on stage at The Duplex on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. Move over Irving Berlin, make room for Juliana.
"Vanda's research includes not only attitudes, specific places, and the music of the times (that in itself is fun), but the lingo, the slang, the dances, the clothes will put you right in the groove." — Sandra de Helen, lgbtSr, February 6, 2016Read the full review
"In Vanda's engaging novel, in the summer of 1941, Alice Huffman arrives in New York City with dreams of making it as an actress. Though stardom proves elusive, Al connects with a new circle of friends in the entertainment business, and she's immediately enchanted by Juliana, an enigmatic lounge singer. As World War II begins, Al and Juliana cross paths repeatedly and a complicated relationship develops. This romance provides a fascinating entry point into New York City's gay community during a rarely-explored era." — Publishers Weekly, September 14, 2016
"Juliana is a masterful work of historical fiction that leads you through the early 1940s with substance and style. It is an LGBT coming of age story, a tale of sexual questioning and awakening (and as such, should be reserved for more mature audiences) that really opened my eyes to some of the truths of gay history. The author makes very effective use of period language to set the tone and the scene, and even though some of the language may be offensive or hard to read, it is valuable to understanding this time in history." — Braver, On-line Book Club, September 22, 2016Read the full review
"Juliana (Volume 1, 1941-1944) by Vanda is an intriguing historical fiction romance set in 1940s New York City, where the gay community thrives in the midst of a repressive atmosphere and raging war in Europe.... Juliana is an enjoyable read (with) great insight into the life of gay men and women in 1940s New York City, where social dividing existed between the 'proper' community and the socially undesirable. I'm eager to find out how the story continues in Volume II. " — Lit Amri (Reader's Favorite)
"JULIANA is a captivating piece of history and romance, a time capsule that captures all of the tumult and thrill of wartime America in the early 1940s." — IndieReader, March 1, 2017