A Beautiful Family by Marilyn Cohen de Villiers – Review and Interview!

Posted July 28, 2014 by Lillian in Interviews, Reviews / 1 Comment

Today I’m so excited to bring you a debut novel by author Marilyn Cohen de Villiers and not only do I have a review for you but an interview with the author as well!

I received this book via the author, Marilyn Cohen de Villiers. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of this review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
A Beautiful Family by Marilyn Cohen de Villiers – Review and Interview!A Beautiful Family by Marilyn Cohen de Villiers
Series: Silverman Saga #1
Published by Reach Publishing on May 12, 2014
Length: 506 pages
Reviewing eARC Rating:

When Johannesburg socialite Brenda Silverman dies in mysterious circumstance in her palatial, well secured home, questions are inevitable.

Did she commit suicide? Was it an accidental drug overdose? Or did her death have something to do with her husband, Alan?

Alan Silverman is a handsome, charming businessman with impeccable credentials: a former political activist who fled South Africa in the 1980s and returned to help build the new democracy; a loving husband and devoted father; a pillar of Johannesburg’s Jewish community; and an intimate of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress elite. He is also a man hiding a terrible secret.

Tracy Jacobs, a young journalist, is assigned to cover the story but as her investigations start to uncover cracks in the beautiful Silverman family facade, she finds herself in conflict with her own community.

Will Brenda’s inquest finally reveal the truth?

Spanning nearly forty years and three countries (South Africa, England and Israel), A Beautiful Family confirms a horrible reality: that “things like that” can and do happen to people just like us.


A Beautiful Family by Marilyn Cohen de Villiers tells the story of the Silverman family and spans over forty years. The story begins with the death of Brenda Silverman and the speculation from journalist Tracy Jacobs that it wasn’t a suicide. Told from multiple points of view, the story tells the romance of Alan and Brenda and how sometimes love takes a dark turn. FYI: This story is not for the faint of heart as it deals with domestic violence and sexual abuse.

The characters in this book are so well written that they come to life on the pages. Alan Silverman is the patriarch of the Silverman family, has an impeccable reputation as a Jewish businessman in Johannesburg, and is a former exile for his refusal to fight for his country during the anti-Apartheid movement, but that is his public persona. Brenda Silverman is the perfect example of an orthodox Jewish wife, a former dancer she meets Alan while he is in exile in Israel and it is love at first sight. Annette Davies is a former college friend of Alan’s and she helps the couple get refugee status in London, however for her it is because she loves Alan. I kind of feel sorry for Annette but at the same time I don’t. She’s a hateful character, wanting a man she cannot have and feigning love for a man she can have. No sympathy for her from me! Ben Shapiro is a business owner in London who meets Alan and Brenda and basically adopts them as his children. I love this character! He’s like a grandpa, loving and protective of his family. Other POVs that you get in the book come from Tracy Jacobs, the journalist covering the death of Brenda Silverman and the inquest that follows, Yair and Aviva Silverman, the twins and firstborn of the Silverman family.

This story revolves around the lives of Alan and Brenda and what leads to her death in the story. The plot jumps from present to past and back as the story unfolds during the inquest of Brenda’s death. Just when you think you have the story figured out, the author throws a surprise twist in that changes your thoughts and proves them wrong! Though parts were predictable, many aspects were not. Alan’s treatment of his family and the man that he transforms into as you read the story is shocking and heart-breaking. I wept for Brenda as she realizes that the man she loves is not who she thinks he is, especially as the author reveals his past. I can’t say more without spoiling the story for you, so just go read it for yourself 😉

Overall, the story is suspenseful, fast-paced, and truly will tear at your emotions. As already mentioned, it is not for anyone that is sensitive to domestic violence or sexual abuse and I highly recommend that it be read by mature audiences only due to its sexual content and strong language. If you enjoy realistics stories that deal with social issues, than I highly recommend this debut novel. The author has woven together a truly rich story full of characters that could be real and experiences that people can relate to.


Lillian: Thank you so much for coming today Marilyn. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Marilyn: I write for my living (I’m in Public Relations) and I try and do as much creative writing as I can in any spare time I have available. When I’m not writing…I love walking. It’s good for my health – but great for my soul. I belong to a walking club “Walk for Life” and we meet three times a week. On weekdays we usually walk about 6km; and on Saturdays 10km – just through the streets in our area of Johannesburg. It’s great fun – we chat and enjoy the beautiful trees (Johannesburg is the world’s largest manmade urban forest).

Unfortunately, I injured my knee late last year and this has severely restricted my walking. I can manage about 4km at the moment (building up slowly) so as part of my rehabilitation, I joined the local gym and four mornings a week I join a water aerobics class, splashing around with a group of other middle-aged to elderly, largely overweight women. It’s good fun, and it certainly seems to be helping to strengthen the muscles that control my knee so that I can get on with doing what I really enjoy – walking.

Other than that, my husband and I love eating out, going to movies, and spending time with family. Unfortunately, our elder daughter lives abroad with her husband and two children – so the highlight of our week every week is our Skype chat with her and our three-year-old granddaughter. Our grandson is just six months old but he seems to recognise our faces and voices and chuckles when we call his name.

Lillian: What inspired you to become a writer?

Marilyn: I’ve always loved reading and I did well in creative writing at school. In Standard 9 (Grade 11) my English teacher suggested I consider a career in journalism. He said my summary of the last act of Hamlet reminded him of a news report in the Times. So I applied to Rhodes University – the only English university in South Africa to offer a degree in Journalism… and the rest is history.

A fortune teller I met while celebrating passing my matriculation exams and before heading off to Rhodes told me that while I would always write, I would never write a novel. And for 40 odd years, I didn’t.

When a colleague – a woman I had known since primary school – died unexpectedly. And suddenly I realised that life was extremely short and that if I didn’t at least try to write a novel (everyone was always asking me why I didn’t), I would regret it. However, I wasn’t sure where to start. So I enrolled myself on to a part time creative writing course, and started writing.

The first draft of A Beautiful Family took six months to complete. The rewrites and tweekings took another 12 months. And it has taken a further six months to reach the “I have a published book” stage.

Lillian: Was there an author or book that influenced you growing up?

Marilyn: Not really. I have always enjoyed stories with a strong storyline. I interviewed Jeffrey Archer many, many years ago and we discussed why some books are considered “literature” while others that sell millions of copies don’t. He said it was because some authors are good writers; others are good storytellers; and some – like Dickens for example – are both. He considered himself a good storyteller. I have a suspicion which category I fall into.

Lillian: Where do you your ideas come from?

Marilyn: From everyday life, things I see and read. And ideas often just come to me while I am walking, or driving. When I was little, I’d make up the most elaborate stories and act them out with my dolls, all of whom had names and very defined characters.

Lillian: A Beautiful Family is a very heart-rending story about a Jewish family and domestic violence. Is there anything based on real-life experience or is it purely imagination?

Marilyn: A Beautiful Family is purely fiction. I don’t know specific people like my characters nor do I know a family that experiences what this family experiences. That said, the story is a depiction of a situation that could very well be true. I did quite a lot of research into family abuse and everything that goes along with it. And the socio-political environment in which the characters live is factually correct. I have, however, invented or changed the names of a couple of places and institutions – for example the village where the main character grew up is entirely a figment of my imagination.

Lillian: One of my favorite scenes in the book is told from Alan’s point of view and it is when he first meets Brenda. Did you have a favorite part to write?

Marilyn: I don’t really have a favourite part. There were, however, some parts that I found really difficult to write – those that dealt directly with abuse.

Lillian: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there anything you would change?

Marilyn: Not really. I have no doubt that I could have kept on tweeking and fixing for the next 20 years, but I had to draw a line in the sand and say “enough”.

Lillian: I would love to know more about Tracy. Is there a character or idea you’d like to revisit from A Beautiful Family?

Marilyn: There are two characters – fairly minor characters – in A Beautiful Family – who I would like to explore more.

Lillian: What project are you working on now?

Marilyn: My second novel, When Time Fails, which tells the story of one of the minor characters in A Beautiful Family.

Lillian: What is some of the hardest criticism you’ve had to deal with since becoming a published author? Best compliment?

Marilyn: Nothing yet. My book has not yet been independently reviewed. Friends and family who have read it have loved it – but that’s hardly objective. My 85-year-old mother was a little shocked that her 57-year-old “baby” daughter not only knew about “such things” but actually wrote about them.

Lillian: Do you have any advice you’d like to share with aspiring writers?

Marilyn: I’m hardly in a position to give advice, having only written one novel. But I suppose I’d say: “Yes you can”.

Lillian: Now just a few fun questions. Favorite color?

Marilyn: Green

Lillian: Favorite movie?

Marilyn: Little Women/Ghost/Pretty Women/Gone with the Wind/Titanic

Lillian: Favorite TV show?

Marilyn: Grey’s Anatomy/Call the Midwife/Downton Abbey/Masterchef Australia/So you think you can dance

Lillian: Favorite place to write?

Marilyn: In bed, using my laptop as a laptop.

Lillian: If you had to choose just one book, what would it be and why?

Marilyn: Leon Uris “Exodus” – It was a great story but I also loved the historical nature of the story – it taught me a great deal about the holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel, which are subjects that fascinate me.

Lillian: Last question and possibly the most important…What brand of cereal best describes you and why?

Marilyn: I love oatmeal porridge. Alternatively muesli.

About Marilyn Cohen de Villiers

Marilyn Cohen de Villiers (57) was born and raised in Johannesburg’s middle-class northern suburbs, the youngest daughter of an extraordinarily ordinary, happy, stable, traditional (rather than observant) Jewish family. After matriculating at Northview High (a government school), she went to Rhodes University in Grahamstown where she completed a B. Journalism degree. This was followed by a “totally useless” - according to her parents - Honours degree in English Literature (first class), also at Rhodes.

After backpacking through Europe, she started her career as a reporter on a daily newspaper at the dawning of the turbulent 1980s. During this period, she interviewed, among others, Frank Sinatra, Jeffrey Archer, right-wing extremist Eugene Terre’blanche and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She caught crocodiles; avoided rocks and tear smoke canisters in various South African townships; stayed awake through interminable city council meetings and criminal and civil court cases - and learned to interpret balance sheets and understand economic jargon. She also married - and 31 years later remains happily married to - her news editor (now retired), Poen de Villiers.

After the birth of their two daughters, Marilyn ‘crossed over’ into Public Relations. Her writing - articles, media releases, opinion and thought leadership pieces and so on – continues to be published regularly in South African newspapers and other media, usually under someone else’s by-line.

The unexpected death of a childhood friend and colleague in 2011 spurred her to take stock of her life. A few months later, she started writing A Beautiful Family. She is now working hard on her second novel, When Times Fails.

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