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3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,677 Ratings  ·  229 Reviews

"I'd heard about him but had never seen him, the foreigner with the funny name who wandered the countryside painting pictures."

From a talented new author comes a poignant and haunting novel of creation and desire, passion and madness, art and love.

A young prostitute seeking temporary refuge from the brothel, Rachel awakens in a beautiful garden in Arles to discove

Paperback, 394 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2009)
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Art & Artists in Fiction
51st out of 519 books — 827 voters
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21st out of 235 books — 115 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Art historian Sheramy Bundrick wrote an engaging novel about the last two years of Vincent van Gogh's life. The book is narrated by Rachel, an orphaned prostitute he met in Arles in 1888 who fell in love with van Gogh. From a newspaper report, historians know that van Gogh presented his severed ear to a real Rachel during a bout of madness. The author has imagined the details of their relationship in this romantic story. For the sake of the story, Rachel seems to have quite a bit more free time ...more
Oct 28, 2009 Misfit rated it really liked it

Oooh, what I'd give to see one in real life. First time author and art historian Sheramy Bundrick takes a character who is a mere footnote in history - a prostitute by the name of Rachel was presented with Vincent Van Gogh's severed ear by the artist himself - and spins an artful (pun intended) tale around what-might-have-been. Told from the first person POV, Rachel awakes from a nap in a city garden to find a odd gentleman sketching her - and a new friendship begins that quickly turns to love -
Jan 22, 2010 Chrissie rated it liked it
Shelves: art, france, hf, text-checked
I liked this book. The author has done impeccable research on the artist and his paintings, searching through all the letters and documents available. I believe the character of Vincent Van Gogh is accurately portrayed. It is very possible that he could have had such a relationship with a woman portrayed as Rachel, and her emotions were poignantly depicted. I love the vibrancy of Van Gogh's art, and that too helped me enjoy this book, but still only three stars. I debated between three and four ...more
Marisa Mills
Jun 14, 2011 Marisa Mills rated it really liked it
The Good: As someone getting a minor in art history, I can definitely appreciate this novel. The depiction of Vincent van Gogh is amazing. This novel is fantastic at showing the connection between brilliance and madness, creativity and reality. It's incredible, and I found myself squealing with delight at all the little bitty historical references, and probably really annoyed the people sitting beside me on the bus. Vincent van Gogh is brilliant, and I really admire someone who can portray that ...more
Sep 01, 2010 Lauren rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 13, 2014 Christine rated it really liked it
I have always been intrigued by the story of Van Gogh cutting off his own ear and delivering it to a prostitute whom he was supposedly in love with. This book tells that story from the perspective of Rachel, the prostitute herself.

I was impressed with the historic detail, interwoven with time periods and speculations about the paintings. The author researched this book by using documents and actual letters written by Vincent and his brother Theo. Great attention is paid to that historical accur
Jan 22, 2010 Shomeret rated it it was amazing
I am particularly fond of liminal characters.(Liminality is a term for anthropology which means caught betwixt and between.) Liminal characters are outside the normal social structure. They can only bond with each other. This describes the relationship between Vincent and Rachel. Their liminal status gives them insights into each other's hearts and souls. Rachel can understand Vincent far better than Theo, Vincent's brother. Though the events described are tragic, I am uplifted by the fact that ...more
This was an amazing work of historical fiction. This author took bits and pieces of real history and wrote an incredible work of fiction. There are very few books that I have read that have touched me so that they have made me cry. This one did it throughout the telling of a very sad fictional love story involving Vincent Van Gogh in the last two years of his life.
This historical fiction of the painter Vincent Van Gogh is told from the perspective of Rachel, the prostitute to whom Vincent gifted the lobe of his ear in a fit of madness. Although very little is factually known about this woman, Bundrick has created an amazing love story that makes you want it to be true.

Van Gogh left his soul and spirit in the beauty and vividness of his paintings, and Bundrick builds her story around them and the many letters he wrote to his beloved brother Theo. Most ch
Art & Agony:
Sunflowers by Sheramy Bundrick

As I began reading this, it reminded me of Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. Sunflowers also explores one of the ‘what if’ theories behind a classic artist - in this case, Vincent van Gogh. However, as I read on, the chasm between the two books grew ever wider. Having finished Sunflowers, I would not equate it with Girl With A Pearl Earring, and at the risk of sounding nasty - Tracy Chevalier is a highly skilled novelist, Sheramy Bundrick
Jan 08, 2011 Danna rated it liked it
This is a historical novel, loosely based on the life of Vincent Van Gogh - as told by his fictional lover, Rachel. I enjoyed the history part of the story, learning about Van Gogh, his paintings, depression, and lifestyle. Rachel, the narrator and Vincent's lover, is a prostitute in a brothel. Vincent and her meet in a local park, and he requests permission to visit her at the brothel. A romance strikes up, and the two are obsessively in love for the next two years. At times, I felt like this b ...more
Jan 11, 2010 Katie rated it really liked it
Rachel is the prostitute to whom Vincent gives his ear when he cuts it off. That is the only historical fact known about her. So the author took this seemingly minor person and spun a story about her relationship with Vincent during his time in Arles, France. Why would Vincent specifically ask for Rachel when he stumbles into the brothel that night? A good question, which the author answers with creativity and imagination.

The novel is littered with imagery of Vincent's paintings, especially my f
Sasha Martinez
Sep 30, 2011 Sasha Martinez added it
Shelves: 2010
To be more accurate, it’s a novel about the love between him and Rachel Courteau. And it’s basically doomed love. What do you get when you pair a down-on-her-luck prostitute with a down-on-his-luck artist? And in 19th century France? Doomed love, I tell you.

We know all about the mythos of Van Gogh—how troubled he was; how plagued by a disorder that’s still under debate by scholars these days (hell, even I tried to diagnose him while reading this book); how (and this is something that strikes fea
Apr 09, 2011 Amy rated it really liked it
I fully expected to struggle with this book as I'd just emerged from a prolonged journey through a thicket of fantasy novels and still had the fog of magic hazing my eyes. Instead, I fell headlong into Arles and the (partially) fictionalized history of Van Gogh's final two years of life.

I found the book a fascinating and very easy read. The author wrote in a way that took me past the written word and deposited me as a spectator into the scenes. She vividly painted, with words, the gardens and wh
Dec 07, 2014 Gina rated it liked it
Wish there was a rating between it was okay and I liked it. I did like the story told from the perspective of the prostitute girlfriend and it did make me curious about many things (love books that do that). I researched more about the lives of prostitutes in France in that time period for one. I have to confess I have never been a huge fan of van Gogh's work but I did look up a lot of his paintings on line and would actually love to visit the museum in Amsterdam to see his paintings in person.
Terrible, terrible, terrible. It was a cliched, sloppy mess. Art fanfiction (as I like to call it) can be a bit hit or miss, and this one was definitely a miss. When Rachel (view spoiler), I just started laughing. Didn't bother to finish it, and I don't think I missed much. We all know how the story ends anyway.
Jun 26, 2014 Victoria rated it it was amazing
I picked this book up on a whim at my local library and in two days it became probably my favourite book of all time. Sheramy Bundrick does an excellent job at crafting deep and dynamic characters from little more than letters and paintings. In no time at all I found myself incredibly invested in the life and romance of the main character Rachael Courteau. Although I read this rather quickly, it is likely to remain anchored in my mind for several years to come. Sunflowers is one of the few books ...more
May 22, 2013 Ashley rated it it was amazing
A beautiful love story based on the last 2 years of life of one of the greatest painters known to man, and one of my greatest inspirations, Vincent van Gogh.
Krista-lynne Edwards
Apr 16, 2016 Krista-lynne Edwards rated it it was amazing
I loved this novel! Van Gogh is one of my favourite artists and the story that Bundrick developed and intwined with authentic history made this novel a pleasure to read. The way she portrays Van Gogh to be all consumed by his love of painting and how his emotions flow through the pages with the creative words that help describe many of his paintings. Although it is a fictional novel, the story line has many true facts about the last few years of his life.

Through the perspective of Van Gogh's lo
Jan 28, 2014 Bethany rated it did not like it
I couldn't even finish this book, it was that bad. This is not what I was expecting, truthfully. I judged this book by it's cover & thought it might paint a deeper picture of one of my favorite artists. It did not.

This book comes off as some sort of dream a romance-ridden woman would come up with, like it was written in a journal (i.e. I had a dream about Van Gogh and I was a prostitute and...), it all seemed very contrived and Rachel, the main characters, reactions to things were a little d
May 22, 2013 Adrianne rated it really liked it
This book was very good. It made the mentally ill behavior and eccentric demeanor of Van Gogh relatable - it humanized him.
Nov 28, 2009 travelerblue rated it liked it
A 'what if' novel about Van Gogh. What if he had a girlfriend who was a prostitute during his last years in France...
Sue Myers
Jan 24, 2016 Sue Myers rated it liked it
Interesting historical fiction about the last 2 years of the life of Vincent Van Gogh. The story had too much dialogue in it that was totally made up. With the publishing of Van Gogh's letters this year, more light might be shed on Van Gogh's relationship to the prostitute named Rachel. I did enjoy reading about "the ear" episode from another point of view, finding out that Gaugain was not a nice person. Van Gogh must have been bipolar. This book reawakened my interest in his paintings and I wou ...more
I enjoyed this book. I liked how Vincent Van Gogh was portrayed as a sympathetic person instead of a lunatic. I would have liked to have read more about Vincent as opposed to Rachel, the prostitute, who Vincent loves (remember the ear incident), but the story is historical fiction and Rachel's perspective. I do suggest that you have your ipad/kindle fire nearby while reading. In the back of the book Bundrick has listed the paintings that are mentioned in each chapter and it really added to my re ...more
Stacie Pittard
Aug 04, 2015 Stacie Pittard rated it really liked it
Sunflowers is a novel that is as well researched as it is written. I was very surprised to find that this was Bundrick's first novel, and not at all surprised that she is an art history scholar. She is able to strike a balance in taking artistic license and creating a good story while also staying true to history, and providing well researched information. I learned a great deal about Van Gough's life. The most striking thing about this book was how she captured Van Gough's paintings so well, an ...more
Oct 03, 2014 Silver rated it really liked it
I found this to be a beautifully written touching, and heartbreaking story. Bundrick did a wonderful job of merging meticulous research on Vincent's life and work into an engaging story which details the last two years of his life. She brings new life into these characters and makes them flesh and blood and makes the reader hope for them, and root for them, even as we already know the enviable truth of what happens. One of the things of which I most enjoyed about this book was the way in which B ...more
Jan 29, 2010 Monica rated it really liked it
It was difficult at first for me to feel comfortable with this narrative on Van Gogh. My curiosity was centered on the real story of Van Gogh, and it wasn't immediately engaging to read Bundrick's illustration of a relatively unknown period in the artist's life. That said, I was soon enthralled with the perspective of Arles - the time and place that tie into this stage in Van Gogh's life, as a painter and a man.

The chapters begin with excerpts from Van Gogh's letters - those to his brother and f
Jan 30, 2010 Brenda rated it really liked it
Because of my love for Van Gogh's art, I was excited when I found the new book "Sunflowers," by Sheramy Bundrick, who is an art historian and professor. I finished the book today, and have gained an even greater appreciation for Van Gogh's impressionistic works and how they changed the art world forever. The author always loved Van Gogh, and wrote this fictionalized story about his life with a prostitute around and during the time he cut his ear off and then on until his suicide. Over a year of ...more
Kathy (Bermudaonion)
Rachel Courteau was a prostitute in Arles, France in the late 19th century and in a chance encounter, she met Vincent van Gogh, thus beginning a two year relationship with him. Theirs was an odd relationship since she was a prostitute and he was fighting mental illness.

SUNFLOWERS by Sheramy Bundrick is told from Rachel’s perspective and follows her relationship with Vincent from his time in Arles to Saint Rémy to Auvers with the latter parts of their relationship shown through their corresponden
Sunflowers is a good stepping stone to exploring Vincent van Vogh's later life. Art historian and professor Sheramy Bundrick takes the briefest historical mention of Rachel, the prostitute to whom van Gogh presents the product of his aural mutilation, to develop a love story which spans his stay in Arles to his confinement in the asylums at Saint Remy and Auvers-sur-Oise. The historical facts and mentions of Vincent's paintings, including Gauguin's visit and the Yellow House, are well preserved. ...more
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I am an art historian and professor at a state university in Florida, where I have lived since 2001. I grew up just outside Atlanta and earned my BA, MA, and PhD in art history at Emory University. My academic specialty is ancient art; my book "Music and Image in Classical Athens" is loosely based on my dissertation. "Sunflowers" is my first novel and was an opportunity for me to explore more deep ...more
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