Book details


A Novel

Author: Amelia Gray



About This Book

Using the scaffolding of Isadora Duncan’s life and the stuff of her spirit, Amelia Gray delivers an incredibly imaginative portrait of the artist

In 1913, the restless...

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Book Details

Using the scaffolding of Isadora Duncan’s life and the stuff of her spirit, Amelia Gray delivers an incredibly imaginative portrait of the artist

In 1913, the restless world sat on the brink of unimaginable suffering. But for one woman, the darkness of a new era had already made itself at home. Isadora Duncan would come to be known as the mother of modern dance, but in the spring of 1913 she was a grieving mother, after a freak accident in Paris resulted in the drowning death of her two young children.

The accident cracked Isadora’s life in two: on one side, the brilliant young talent who captivated audiences the world over; on the other, a heartbroken mother spinning dangerously on the edge of sanity.

Isadora is a shocking and visceral portrait of an artist and woman drawn to the brink of destruction by the cruelty of life. In her breakout novel, Amelia Gray offers a relentless portrayal of a legendary artist churning through prewar Europe. Isadora seeks to obliterate the mannered portrait of a dancer and to introduce the reader to a woman who lived and loved without limits, even in the darkest days of her life.

Imprint Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Reading Guide

In The News

"A great novel of character: the story of a real woman's real grief and survival . . . Gray’s characters devour the world through their senses, a voracious, bodily quality that's a gift in writing the story of a woman for whom meaning began in the body . . . Though it uses gifts already apparent in Gray's work, Isadora also marks an evolution: Here, Gray's prose is enriched by a profound tenderness . . . Isadora is a heavenly celebration of women in charge of their bodies." —Ellie Robins, Los Angeles Times

"A stunning meditation on art and grief by one of America's most exciting young authors . . . Gray is a gutsy, utterly original writer, and this is the finest work she's done so far. Isadora is a masterful portrait of one of America's greatest artists, and it's also a beautiful reflection on what it means to be suffocated by grief, but not quite willing to give up." —Michael Schaub,

"[Gray's] sentences are painfully precise. Thrills come from telling gestures and original thoughts rather than plot twists . . . Isadora is so confounded by her fame and grief that she’s in the dark about her own emotions, even as her expressive dances capture the world’s attention. Gray portrays that great irony in heartbreaking detail and psychological acuity, her language hinging lyrical flight with wry directness . . ." —Josh Cook, The Washington Post

"[Isadora] achieves something far more ambitious than documentary fiction . . . Isadora is a portrait of a revolutionary artist who endures extreme misfortune and the flow of history, a novel whose depiction of a world on the brink of horror and atrocity feels utterly contemporary, but it is also a novel about writing, about the creation of literary art . . . This is what is known as "making it look easy," which Amelia Gray has accomplished to the utmost." —Brooks Sterritt, San Francisco Chronicle

"Gray makes [each character] and their suffering tremendously compelling and allows each of them moments of great sympathy . . . [Isadora] is the most deeply sustained of [Gray's] books to date, the most epic and ambitious. It is a brutal novel in many ways, completely unrelenting in its depiction of pain, yet that makes it exhilarating, too. Gray is a fearless writer, a writer willing to look into the most profound darkness and find strange, compelling music there." —Gayle Brandeis, Los Angeles Review of Books

"A stunning work filled with profound emotional insights and downright splendid prose. Indeed, Gray's sentences move with a natural cadence that mirrors Isadora's philosophy as a dancer. With each movement, Gray gradually reveals the ambitions and losses of her characters." —Aram Mrjoian, Chicago Review of Books

"Like its subject, [Isadora is] full of contrasts and contradictions, a story wrought with complexity and understated humor that lives comfortably in the nuanced, darkened corners of experience." —Megan Burbank, Portland Mercury

"Isadora is a moving exploration of the way sadness threads through a life, stitching it into new forms and figures as strange as they are resilient." —Margo Orlando Littell, Manhattan Book Review

"Gray displays a wide range of versatility in her dance literacy—often in surprising, pleasurable ways — but she is most eloquent when describing Isadora’s connections to other people . . . [Isadora] has passages of great beauty, exhilarating savagery and humor . . . Isadora transcends the realities of its individual characters to focus on the ties that bind them." —Kristin Hatleberg, The Culture Trip

"[A] deeply inquisitive and empathic story of epic grief . . . Historical novels about artists abound, but few attain the psychological intricacy, fluency of imagination, lacerating wit, or intoxicating beauty of Gray’s tale of Isadora Duncan . . . Gray, performing her own extraordinary artistic leap, explores the nexus between body and mind, loss and creativity, love and ambition, and birth and death. The spellbinding result is a mythic, fiercely insightful, mordantly funny, and profoundly revelatory portrait of an intrepid and indelible artist.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

"Captivating historical fiction . . . Gray does a terrific job of depicting not just the bereavement of a mother, but also the bereavement of a mother for whom life is a source of fuel for art. . . A novel equal to its larger-than-life protagonist." —Kirkus

"Gray’s striking, sensual language is perfectly suited to her visionary protagonist, and the novel shimmers with memorable prose." —Publishers Weekly

"Gray isn’t the first or the last novelist to take on Isadora Duncan’s outsize, groundbreaking, tragic life. But she might be the weirdest, in a good way. Gray’s stories have tended toward fabulist absurdism." —Vulture Spring Book Preview

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