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The Art Student's War

3.24  ·  Rating Details  ·  299 Ratings  ·  84 Reviews
In The Art Student’s War, his sixth novel, Brad Leithauser has brought off a double feat of imagination: a keen and affectionate rendering of an artist as a young woman and a loving historical portrait of a now-vanished Detroit in its heyday.

The story opens on a sunny spring day as a pretty woman, in a crowded wartime city, climbs aboard a streetcar. She is heading home,
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published November 3rd 2009 by Knopf (first published 2009)
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Jan 28, 2010 Nancy rated it it was ok
I struggled through this book and have been puzzling over why I found it so flat. It is set in Detroit in the 40's, perhaps the heyday of the city. As my hometown, I wanted it to feel warm and familiar; it didn't.

The principal character is an art student at a school reminiscent of one I am very familiar with; that didn't resonate either.

But those are small complaints that would have dissolved if I became lost in the world of the novel, which I never did. I think my frustration stems from the fa
Some years ago, at what was once my favorite bookstore (BORDERS), I purchased this book. I was gratified to know that someone had written a novel in which --- as was spelled out on the back cover --- Detroit would occupy center stage. For it is the city in which I was born and spent half my life before forging a new start and career out East.

In truth, "The Art Student's War" (which begins in late May 1943 on a Woodward Avenue streetcar in which a young woman returning home from art school catch
May 22, 2011 Carrie rated it it was ok
Shelves: unfinished
I loved the first half of this book, and I was all set to give it 4 stars. The first half tells the story of Bianca Paradiso, a young art student living in 1940s Detroit, who is asked to make portraits of soldiers recovering at the local hospital. I loved the descriptions of the time and the place and the people Bianca met.

In the short Part 2, however, the book seemed to reach its natural conclusion. Characters seem to somehow "remember" events that happen years later: so-and-so dies, such-and-
Feb 08, 2010 Chuck rated it it was ok
The Art Student's War offers a sweeping panoramic view of Detroit during World War II and the decade that followed. Brad Leithauser spins a convincing narrative around his protagonist, Bianca ("Bea") Paradiso, first seen as an art student who is eventually recruited to to produce drawings of wounded soldiers. Like most others, Bea's family and small circle of friends have their joys, tensions, and dark little secrets.

Leithauser, who was born in Detroit, adroitly supplies a wealth of historica
Sep 05, 2010 Elise rated it really liked it
The story is captivating as well as unique. What i loved best about The Art Student's War was Leithauser's honesty in portraying life as it really is. He manages to convince readers that we are in fact inside the characters' heads, seeing their world, feeling their emotions. His characterization includes special nuances that bring each character to life. Bianca, the protaganist, and her mother, both have certain habits and rituals that we later recognize as O.C.D. but Leithauser never has to nam ...more
May 04, 2010 Jennifer rated it liked it
This book tells the story of an 18 year old art student during and after World War II in Detroit. I was drawn to this book, because I expected the young woman's story to coincide somehow with the changes that affected that city in the second half of the twentieth century. Perhaps I was expecting another Middlesex. But while the book does involve the rich description of the city, there doesn't seem to be a larger point about the evolution of that particular place. And the story itself seems to pl ...more
Vivian Valvano
Feb 26, 2011 Vivian Valvano rated it liked it
I read it for one of my library book clubs. For awhile, I really liked it. A large part of it takes place in Detroit during WW II, and I enjoyed learning about Detroit at that time. It's one of our most broken and forgotten cities now, but it was so important then, especially in terms of industry. The narrative is straight realism, no experimentation or attempts to dazzle with special writerly effects, so it's basically an easy read. Major problem: when the narrative moved beyond WW II and jumpe ...more
Kem White
Aug 14, 2010 Kem White rated it really liked it
“The Art Student's War" is a delightful book, bringing to life the story of Bianca Paradiso, who comes of age during World War II and the decade after. Leithauser's rich prose gives the reader a nearly pitch perfect rendering of Bianca, her family and friends, and her hometown – Detroit - during its heyday of growth and manufacturing prowess.

I admit, had it not been set in my hometown, I probably would not have been drawn to this book. The heroine is an 18-year-old girl yearning to be an artist.
Sarah Wingo
Sep 04, 2010 Sarah Wingo rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Wendy Wax
Jun 30, 2010 Wendy Wax rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 23, 2010 Peter rated it really liked it
In this coming-of-age story of Bianca (Bea) Paradiso, an art student in wartime and post-war Detroit, Leithauser succeeds in vividly evoking a world gone by. The characters -- Bea's immediate and extended family, her fellow art students, the soldiers she encounters when she spends time in the local hospital sketching portraits to cheer up the troops -- feel precisely right. But the book is more than just a snapshot of a moment; the characters grow and change over the course of the novel, none mo ...more
Dec 24, 2009 Iva rated it really liked it
Brad Leithauser has written a compelling novel about Detroit during WW II and peopled it with wonderfully engaging characters. Each one makes for a rich reading experience. The protagonist is Bea (Bianca) an art student who draws portraits of hospitalized soldiers injured in the war. Of course she becomes involved with one and she is also dating an art student from a prominent Detroit family. Those familiar with Detroit will enjoy the details of past restaurants, landmarks, etc. The 2nd half of ...more
Jun 22, 2014 Wileyacez rated it really liked it
Plot and story alone would have been three stars, but one of the best characters in this book is the Detroit Institute of Arts! I had this book for a while, but never quite realized that the setting was Detroit, Michigan--where I worked for the last five years. I, too, have lunched at the DIA in Kresge Court! Bianca Paradiso is an art student in Detroit during WWII, and this story is about Detroit in the war. It is also about the impending changes coming to Detroit after the war. Finally, it's a ...more
Feb 08, 2016 jimtown rated it liked it
Shelves: michigan
I chose this book because it was set in 1940's + Detroit and it was about an aspiring artist, or so I thought. This is actually the story of a family, living in Detroit, as told throughout the life of our art student, Bianca.

It is interesting to see the family dynamics here but Bianca is overly sensitive and little things get built into traumatic events for her. There are some rock solid influences in her father, and most especially, her Uncle Dennis who practically single handedly saves the fam
Jackie Levy
Jul 31, 2014 Jackie Levy rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jackie by: Janice
I had a wonderful time reading this book. It was not until I got to the very end of the book that I realized that the "war" in the title is not WWII, but and internal, family war. A very interesting portrait of Detroit at it's height and one "artist". Very interesting to read about the inner turmoil of a young woman of that era. I thought it was interesting that, though he does not really know the story of his mother-in-law, the author took one aspect of her life, drawing portraits of wounded so ...more
Feb 15, 2010 Kris added it
Shelves: gaveup
I hated all the characters and found that this book rang really false to me. I quit about halfway through.
Aug 15, 2010 Karen rated it liked it
Overall, I liked it enough. It was well written, with moments of beautiful description. Part of the reason I found it endearing was the fact that it took place in Detroit, so I recognized many of the streets and found connection there.

My main problem was the protagonist. There were times when I just didn't like her much, and times I found her unsympathetic. When that hurdle presented itself, I found it hard to enjoy the book. The other characters were also often underdeveloped, mere sketches of
Kat Hagedorn

Lordy. If this is the latest, greatest nostalgic look at Detroit as the city-it-was, then what is this world coming to??

Leithauser may be a well-renowned writing teacher and author, but I believe he has failed in a large way with this ode to his mother and her childhood in Detroit. I think it's safe to say that if you, an author, are going to write something coming from a deeply personal space, you better make sure you're able to step back and view it objectively after
this book covers a wide span of years in the life of bianca "bea" paradiso as she comes of age in detroit during world war 2. an art student, bea is selected to sketch portraits of wounded soldiers staying in a local hospital. the first half of the book describes her love for one of the soldiers (dutch american henry van den akker) as well as her relationship with a fellow art student, and some surrounding family drama. the second half of the book puts us seven years into bianca's marriage and f ...more
Lindsey Torkko
Sep 07, 2011 Lindsey Torkko rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. It had a lot of coming of age drama. The historical setting in WWII Detroit was interesting. I thought there would be more on Bianca's drawing of the soldiers, however despite it being necessary to the plot, it wasn't even a majority of the book. The war Bianca references is less the World War and more the war in her family. It further illustrates the disfunction we all observe in our families while those on the outside think that all is well. The book is full of interesting ...more
Sep 07, 2014 Laura rated it liked it
I appreciated this story whose main character Is based on the experience of the author's mother-in-law who served as a portrait artist for recovering soldiers during WWII. I especially appreciated the very specific sense of place and time the was almost another character within the story. Some of the writing was particularly beautiful; I was not surprised to see that the author is also a published poet. A worthy story, a little long in parts, but overall a satisfying read.
Aug 30, 2014 Quinn rated it liked it
I wanted to love this book but I couldn't. It was frustrating for much of the novel. I found Bea kind of annoying and quite a cry baby. Yes, all of their lives sucked, but I was hoping for more resolution. And I wanted to hear more about the characters, not just the tiny bits we got in the weird flash-forward in the middle. I wish it had been told entirely linearly, it would have been less confusing. I also found the language to be a bit pretentious, and not necessarily adding that much to the s ...more
Nov 30, 2010 Donna rated it really liked it
I'm happy to find a new author! This one was a great story about a young art student, Bianca Paradiso, in Detroit during World War II. The story takes us through her life over a span of ten years. We see her as she begins to see her mission in the war as drawing the wounded in the local hospital and find her, not only witnessing the drama of the war in Europe, but the drama of the "wars" around her in her family and the relationships around her.

Brad Leithauser has the same gift of character deve
Gayla Bassham
Dec 01, 2010 Gayla Bassham rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010-reads
Really 3 1/2 stars. I'm rounding up because Chanukah starts tonight and I'm feeling generous.

If this book had been half as long, it would have been a home run. The first two-thirds are wildly compelling, if windy and in need of editing; the final third is dull and repetitive. If I were the Grand Editor of the Universe, I would cut out some of the underbrush in the first two thirds, chop the final third into an epilogue, and I think we'd have a great novel.

I read some reviews complaining about B
Dec 19, 2014 Cindy rated it it was ok
This book had so much promise. The first third was pretty good. Loved the premise of art students painting portraits of wounded WWII soldiers. But then it just turned into a story about one clueless girl's life. In the middle there was a huge jump in the timeline of about 7 or 8 years ... and what happened during those years was never filled in. Since this ended up being a tale about this girl's love life and relationships and that was the time when she met and married her husband, I thought tha ...more
Marilee Steffen
Jan 17, 2016 Marilee Steffen rated it it was ok
Shelves: americana, detroit
I really tried to like this book but it never quite captured my interest. The story of a young woman in WWII Detroit, left me disappointed. The details kept getting in the way of the story.
Jun 29, 2013 Travis rated it it was ok
I picked up this book at a Goodwill and purchased because it was set in Detroit during more prosperous times. The first section of the novel was not life-altering but it was a good story that i was happy to be reading. The novel was following the coming-of-age of Bianca Paradiso during World War II. However, there was a short middle sections that was filled with foreshadowing (or more plainly, spoilers) that seemed wholly unnecessary. The next portion of the novel took place a few years in the f ...more
Bookmarks Magazine
Feb 08, 2010 Bookmarks Magazine rated it liked it
Shelves: mar-apr-2010
Reactions to The Art Student's War were decidedly mixed. On the one hand, there is Leithauser's lyrical prose, hopeful message, and passionate coming-of-age story. On the other hand, the novel is hampered by long-winded writing, a disappointing ending, and a heroine who is entirely too obtuse. Bea just isn't someone we can get behind, and the novel loses steam during the long, long ending. But Leithauser effectively captures the once-thriving Motor City, so if Detroit is part of your past, this ...more
Sep 04, 2012 Jocelyn rated it really liked it
Like many other reviewers, I agree that the first half was more engaging and was a quicker read. However, I think the 2nd half was necessary to bring things full circle. Bianca was 28 at the end of the novel, and only at that point in her life was she really able to reflect on the things that happened when she was 18 the war, her relationships, her family dynamics, etc. That developing perspective was the most valuable part of the story for me, not just the immersion into WWII Detroit that came ...more
Maggie Joyce
Mar 27, 2010 Maggie Joyce rated it really liked it
The author is incredibly gifted in his poetic imagery. Sometimes while reading I would physiologically react as the protagonist. I felt the anxiety, the tingles, the excitement and the shame - at times losing myself completely.

I graded this four stars, however, because of my personal taste. The story explores the inner universe of a young woman, but all the drama is internal. Although set against a backdrop of WWII, the novel explores the inner not the outer landscape of historic events. It beco
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Leithauser is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. He worked for three years as a research fellow at the Kyoto Comparative Law Center in Japan. Leithauser has lived in Japan, Italy, England, Iceland, and France. His wife, the poet Mary Jo Salter, is also a professor at Mount Holyoke. As of January, 2007, both Leithauser and his wife will have permanently joined the faculty of John ...more
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