“Rosetta, Zeno and Lilian: the Jewish granddaughter of a convict who had acquired position and respect, the tradesman turned magician son of a goldfields from Canton, and the aristocratic Irish-born granddaughter of the Earl of Shaftsbury, and aunt of the future Countess of Mountbatten of Burma, Viceroy of India. Surely there could rarely have existed as unlikely trio as this.” How intriguing is that quote? To learn how this all came about you will really have to read ROSETTA. With its sub-title of “a scandalous true story”. You won’t come up for air once you have begun. Added to all this astonishing tale is the fact that the author, Alexandra Joel is writing about her own great-grandmother, and discovering as she does, the shocking secrets hidden by the years. She intersperses her research with snippets from today, particularly about her mother, who, as a toddler, had been abandoned by her charismatic mother, Rosetta. Once the reader becomes accustomed to this technique, it works wonderfully well. After Rosetta left Melbourne for London, with Zeno the Magnificent, they changed into an American, and a Professor of Radium Therapeutics. The fact that Zeno had no qualifications, indeed little education, did nothing to deter him as he set out to bewitch an astounding list of distinguished clients, including foreign royalty. There is no comment anywhere about their Australian accents, which surely would have revealed the trickery, so presumably they changed their manner of speech to match their new personalities. If ever proof were needed that “truth is stranger than fiction” here it is in spades. A few photographs add to the authenticity of the narrative. Rosetta was quite a gal!
by ALEXANDRA JOEL PUBLISHED by VINTAGE for a recommended $34.99