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Rouge is a fast-paced novel that examines the lives, loves, and sacrifices of the visionaries who invented the modern cosmetics industry: Josiah Herzenstein, born in a Polish Jewish Shtlel, the entrepreneur who transforms herself into a global style icon and the richest woman in the world, Josephine Herz; Constance Gardiner, her rival, the ultimate society woman who invents the door-to-door business and its female workforce but whose deepest secret threatens everything; CeeCee Lopez, the bi-racial beauty and founder of the first African American woman’s hair relaxer business, who overcomes prejudice and heartbreak to become her community’s first female millionaire. The cast of characters is rounded out by Mickey Heron, a dashing, sexy ladies’ man whose cosmetics business is founded in a Hollywood brothel. All are bound in a struggle to be number one, doing anything to get there…including murder.
Book club questions for Rouge
- The book starts off with a prologue in 1983. It’s the funeral for Josephine and it seems like the entire beauty industry came out for it—including her rival Constance. What did you think about this beginning? How did it set the stage for what was to come?
- What were your first impressions of Constance? Did it change as the the story progressed? What about for Josephine?
- Why do you think both Constance and Josephine were drawn to working on beauty and makeup products? Why were they both suited for this?
- In what ways are Constance and Josephine different? And how are they similar? Do you think one is more talented than the other or are they equals?
- Who do you think was the happier one out of the two of them?
- Which one do you think is the better boss if you had to work for either of them?
- Why do you think they fell into the bitter rivalry? But in what ways, did they actually need each other?
- Let’s talk CeeCee’s storyline. If the book was set today—Constance would definitely be accused of sexual harassment. Let’s talk about how CeeCee rose above it all to become so successful.
- What did you think about her relationship with Mickey?
- Did you know much about the real-life inspirations behind the two women (Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden) prior to reading the novel?
- Sony is planning to make this book into a feature film. Let’s cast the main roles!
What to read next
After going through the book club question for Rouge, here are some other historical fiction recommendations (along with book club questions)!
The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis is a fantastic novel about strong women all in the backdrop of the Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
For most New Yorkers, Grand Central Terminal is a crown jewel, a masterpiece of design. But for Clara Darden and Virginia Clay, it represents something quite different.
For Clara, the terminal is the stepping stone to her future. It is 1928, and Clara is teaching at the lauded Grand Central School of Art. Though not even the prestige of the school can override the public’s disdain for a “woman artist,” fiery Clara is single-minded in her quest to achieve every creative success—even while juggling the affections of two very different men. But she and her bohemian friends have no idea that they’ll soon be blindsided by the looming Great Depression…and that even poverty and hunger will do little to prepare Clara for the greater tragedy yet to come.
By 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia Clay’s life. Dilapidated and dangerous, Grand Central is at the center of a fierce lawsuit: Is the once-grand building a landmark to be preserved, or a cancer to be demolished? For Virginia, it is simply her last resort. Recently divorced, she has just accepted a job in the information booth in order to support herself and her college-age daughter, Ruby. But when Virginia stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor, her eyes are opened to the elegance beneath the decay. She embarks on a quest to find the artist of the unsigned masterpiece—an impassioned chase that draws Virginia not only into the battle to save Grand Central but deep into the mystery of Clara Darden, the famed 1920s illustrator who disappeared from history in 1931.
The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer tells the true story of Vogue model turned renowned photographer Lee Miller, and her search to forge a new identity as an artist after a life spent as a muse. “I’d rather take a photograph than be one,” she declares after she arrives in Paris in 1929, where she soon catches the eye of the famous Surrealist Man Ray. Though he wants to use her only as a model, Lee convinces him to take her on as his assistant and teach her everything he knows. As they work together in the darkroom, their personal and professional lives become intimately entwined, changing the course of Lee’s life forever.
Lee’s journey of self-discovery takes took her from the cabarets of bohemian Paris to the battlefields of war-torn Europe during WWII, from inventing radical new photography techniques to documenting the liberation of the concentration camps as one of the first female war correspondents. Through it all, Lee must grapple with the question of whether it’s possible to stay true to herself while also fulfilling her artistic ambition–and what she will have to sacrifice to do so.
Told in alternating timelines of 1930s Paris and the battlefields of WWII, this sensuous, richly researched and imagined debut novel brings to light the life of a fearless, original artist–a woman whose name and art should be known by everyone.
Feel free to discuss Rouge below!