Nobody at the posh 1937 Hollywood party would have guessed that one of the guests, the beautiful, blond, beguiling gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, was Jewish. That was the party where Graham first met the famous, dashing novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, and although she eventually revealed her secret to Fitzgerald, Graham was convinced that her climb up the social and financial ladder depended upon the concealment of her true identity.
Another Side of Paradise is Sally Koslow’s compelling depiction of the tumultuous love affair between Fitzgerald, whose wife was institutionalized and who struggled with alcoholism, and Graham, who returned to him each time he managed to gain control of his drinking. Although her work is fiction, Koslow describes many of the incidents that Graham’s children, the professor and writer Wendy Fairey and the writer and producer Robert Westbrook, have written about in their own memoirs.
Sheilah Graham was born Lily Shiel in London to a family that was so desperately poor after the death of Shiel’s father that her mother had to send two of her children — six-year-old Lily and her brother Morris — to an orphanage for Jewish children. Koslow’s book accurately portrays the awful conditions there; according to Fairey’s 2015 work, Bookmarked, Graham herself would use the word “Dickensian” to describe the six years she lived there. However, she emerged with an indomitable will to succeed and soon married a man who was twice her age and helped transform Lily into Sheilah, the polished society lady she had always dreamed of being.
Koslow often hews closely to the truth in this well-researched novel. One such harrowing incident, which Fairey references in her own book, is Graham’s visit to her father’s grave in Berlin where German children threw stones at her, yelling, “Jüden, Jüden.”
What comes across most strongly in Koslow’s account is the deep love and affection between Graham and Fitzgerald, despite ugly incidents resulting from his alcoholism. Most wrenching for Graham was when Fitzgerald struck her in a drunken fury, and when, in another of his alcohol-fueled rages, he screamed the truth about Graham’s religion to the nurse who was caring for him at the time.
Yet, Graham owed her love and appreciation for literature to Fitzgerald’s “College of One,” where he guided Graham’s reading and discussed the works with her afterwards. As Koslow demonstrates in this moving depiction of the remarkable and passionate Sheila Graham, Fitzgerald was Graham’s one and only true love.