I luxuriated in shades of pink, in descriptions of haute couture so exquisite and precise that I felt elegant just by reading the words. Nicole Mary KI luxuriated in shades of pink, in descriptions of haute couture so exquisite and precise that I felt elegant just by reading the words. Nicole Mary Kelby has stitched together from scraps of facts a compelling story, a lovable heroine, and a living neighborhood in its last few moments of innocence--all against the backdrop of national tragedy. The novel pulses with what we know now. From its startling opening to its poignant ending, The Pink Suit shows us that behind events of global significance, there are unknown individuals worthy of our interest. ...more
In The Mapmaker's Daughter, Laurel Corona authoritatively gives the Jewish oppression in fifteenth century Spain a human face and heart in Amalia RibaIn The Mapmaker's Daughter, Laurel Corona authoritatively gives the Jewish oppression in fifteenth century Spain a human face and heart in Amalia Riba, forced to make soul-defining decisions as her world rolls inexorably toward the Inquisition. Peopled with historic figures, her story soars from loneliness to love, tenderness to horror, and from despair to courage. Sentences of startling, hard-won wisdom leap from the page and command our memories not to forget them. Compelling, complex, and compassionate.
What a joy it is to be back in Belle Epoque Paris with my old artist friends, guided by the masterful pen of Robin Oliveira whose finely crafted languWhat a joy it is to be back in Belle Epoque Paris with my old artist friends, guided by the masterful pen of Robin Oliveira whose finely crafted language brings to light the complicated relationships of four of the principals of the Impressionist movement--Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot and Eduard Manet, two tortured love affairs. Only an omniscient narrator has the latitude to disclose the private yearnings and fears of these four as they grapple with issues of art execution, scathing reviews, self-doubt, elusive fame, tempestuous love, and creeping mortality. The confusion Degas keeps hidden behind his ego, the fantasy and regrets of a dying Manet, the natural goodness and yearnings of Mary Cassatt--all are presented convincingly, inviting our empathy, one exquisitely rendered moment after another. Be prepared to read Degas's confessions breathlessly. Be prepared to weep at the inevitable end. Here, in beautiful prose, juicy with nuance and depth, is the intimate, heart-wrenching story behind Impressionist art history, with Mary Cassatt at its center. A glorious achievement.
Sarah's Key is a compelling tale of the aftermath of the Holocaust, the effect of one particular horrible event--the rounding up of Jews in Paris intoSarah's Key is a compelling tale of the aftermath of the Holocaust, the effect of one particular horrible event--the rounding up of Jews in Paris into the Vel d'hiver, a bicycling arena, by the French police complicit with German occupiers. It's a lesser known event of the war, and deserves our knowledge, if not our attention. By focusing on one family's experience, Tatiana de Rosnay gives the human element through the point of view of Sarah, a ten year old girl who, in an effort to save her younger brother, makes the mistake of hiding him too well moments before she and her parents are taken. For this act she suffers all of her life.
At the sixtieth anniversary, Julie, an American journalist living in Paris is assigned to write about the event, and becomes entirely obsessed with learning every detail of Sarah's life. Much of the book alternates between Julie's and Sarah's points of view and time periods, eventually and inextricably linking the two.
Early parts of Sarah's narrative, particularly her incessant questioning, seem overwritten. I had the feeling that I was being told the same thing over and over. It's a difficult thing to write about horror without going overboard. Midway through the book, as I got caught up in the compelling plot, that feeling left me.
Overall, it's an important book. Despite my love for France, it made me see that not all French people were blameless. ...more
Maryanne O'Hara weaves as intricate, as theatrical, and as tempestuous a plot as deftly as Prospero. Through the eyes of an artist yearning for a largMaryanne O'Hara weaves as intricate, as theatrical, and as tempestuous a plot as deftly as Prospero. Through the eyes of an artist yearning for a larger life-canvas but constrained by a humdrum marriage in a small town careening toward destruction, we see the failings of men and women in their tangled relationships, each member of the cast struggling against cross purposes to find a fulfilling life. Save the town! Save the Shakespearean theater! Save our dreams, we cry out with the players. I fully enjoyed this engaging and imaginative novel....more
Like those two other great European novels of adultery, Lady Chatterley's Lover and Anna Karenina, Marta Oulie traces the interior life of a woman froLike those two other great European novels of adultery, Lady Chatterley's Lover and Anna Karenina, Marta Oulie traces the interior life of a woman from the beautiful and expansive rush of her first love, to her swelling dissatisfaction with her “doll's house” existence constrained by turn-of-the-nineteenth-century values, her growing distance from her adoring husband, her unconsidered entry into an affair, and finally to her ultimate disillusion, self-recrimination, and despair. Thanks to Tiina Nunnally’s nuanced translation, we can experience this strangely compelling novel in all the precise observations of Unset's original Norwegian text. ...more
Sena Jeter Naslund's courageous juxtaposition of two stories, two time periods, two styles urges us to seek parallels between a modern day writer andSena Jeter Naslund's courageous juxtaposition of two stories, two time periods, two styles urges us to seek parallels between a modern day writer and an eighteenth century painter, the writer having just completed a novel of the painter, Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, court painter to Marie Antoinette. With both narratives exploring marriage, husbands, children, and shining above all, their beloved work, one story is delivered leisurely in a single day, much like the contemplative Mrs. Dalloway; the other masterfully encompassing an entire life. Fascinating in structure and rich with detail, this is Naslund at her most delicately nuanced.
Enjoy with me these lyrical sentences: -- Like dimly lit windows in the distance, ideas caught the edge of her attention for a moment, then winked out. -- Personifying Paris after the Revolution: The majestic city will glow and shudder around me, forgetting as best she can that blood and fear have swirled about her ankles. -- Regarding the fountain: Light, dressed in water, displayed itself as bright globules, as parallel lines and broken dashes, as continuous streamers, as spurts and gushes and splashes.
And there's that gorgeous wedding night love scene! Oh my! And there are sentences full of wisdom: -- Yes, I am forever yoked to my husband, but this is the art of living: to feel what I feel; to be in no way repressed, mentally or emotionally; and to find the means both artistically and personally to let out the light that is within me. [Wow, what a powerful affirmation.] -- My father...used to say about his plays that the path to the universal was most certainly through the particular, but all great works, like a bridge, must place a foot on each shore, one concrete and one abstract.
If you have time to linger over sentences, you will find much enjoyment in this novel.
A charmingly imagined tale of the WWII pilot's crash in the Sahara desert where he encounters a little sprite who claims to have come from Asteroid B6A charmingly imagined tale of the WWII pilot's crash in the Sahara desert where he encounters a little sprite who claims to have come from Asteroid B612 and demands that the pilot draw a sheep. The Little Prince relates his struggle to contain the overgrowth of baobabs on his tiny planet, his care for his rosebush, and his encounters with "les grandes personnes," the grown-ups on other asteroids who care more about numbers associated with a person rather than one's character: an unhappy king who reigns over no one, a vain man who demands admiration, a drunkard, a businessman who cares only for his accounts, a faithful lamplighter, a geographer who does not explore new regions, concluding that "les grandes personnes" are very strange. It's a tenderly rendered tale of man's foibles seen through the innocent eyes of a child who, one might thank Heaven, questions.
Since I am reading it in French, it's slow-going. I will write more about it some day. I love this book which is deceptively for children but holds a mirror up to man. We would do well to pay attention....more
Here are excerpts from my review in the Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2013: Edgar Degas’s wax-and-fabric statuette “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” has heldHere are excerpts from my review in the Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2013: Edgar Degas’s wax-and-fabric statuette “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” has held the curiosity of millions in its 28 bronze reproductions, but far fewer know the heart-rending history of the model, Marie van Goethem, and her sisters. In “The Painted Girls,” a historically based work of fiction rich with naturalistic details of late-19th-century Paris, Cathy Marie Buchanan paints the girls who spring from the page as vibrantly as a dancer’s leap across a stage.
Living in the slum of lower Montmartre, the girls aspire to be dancers at the Paris Opera Ballet, a resource for urchins to save themselves from life on the streets by turning their legs out, balancing en pointe, leaping and spinning. Practicing long hours and fighting exhaustion and malnutrition, they could earn a meager income if they remain at the lowest rank of petit rat, but they could lead lavish lives if they climb to stardom. Such was the dream of the van Goethem sisters.
When the novel opens, 17-year-old Antoinette has been dismissed from the ballet school for willfulness and belligerence. Marie, unattractive and exceptionally skinny, is harder-working, achieves short-lived success and poses for Degas’s statuette at age 14. But Charlotte, 7, self-absorbed, pretty, craving bright sashes, is the natural dancer.
Alternating Marie’s point of view with Antoinette’s, the novel contrasts the sheer pleasure of dancing with sharp depictions of brothels, prisons and the guillotine. Despite their grace and achievement (Marie executes 16 breathtaking fouettes en tournant, similar to pirouettes, thus winning a place on stage), the two oldest sisters are bound for calamity. Through their bad decisions, lying, thieving and prostitution of one sort or another, one reads on, compelled by love for these girls whom Buchanan describes so compassionately....The novel poses the question: Is a descent into wretchedness inevitable?
Integrating three actual murderers with the three girls’ histories is another brilliant act of imagination that drives the novel, producing a compelling story of yearning for love in the face of ugliness and brutality. Wheeling out of control, the two older girls descend from their pretty pirouettes to misery, their mutual affection torn apart for a time. Nevertheless, Buchanan makes us feel they are good at heart. “The Painted Girls” is a captivating story of fate, tarnished ambition and the ultimate triumph of sister-love. In short, I found it fascinating....more
I rarely buy a book on impulse seeing it for the first time in a bookstore and buying it before I read a review, but I did with this book, and I'm glaI rarely buy a book on impulse seeing it for the first time in a bookstore and buying it before I read a review, but I did with this book, and I'm glad I did. The subject (an author searching for a subject) and the setting (newly post-WWII, which is the time period included in my novel-in-progress) are both intriguing to me. I'll post again after I've read it. I read half the book on a long flight and wished it were longer! I am enjoying its charm and novelty--a epistolary novel--all letters written to or from Juliet Ashton. Her light, witty opening is a bit deceptive, leading one to think it will be a lightweight book. Not so. Serious, sincere, self-revelatory thoughts are folded into the letters from the Guernsey Islanders which give a true picture of the Occupation, the isolation, the ways of getting by on the island, and the power of literature to help even those who normally don't read. Juliet's connection with these dear people is becoming stronger. (More in June when I read more after I return from Italy.) When I came back to the book, I was riveted. What a tender, strong, compelling story! By small but significant details, by endearing characters, by the sincerity and goodness of simple folk, by their invented ways to deal with the deprivations of the Occupation, by the wry wit of Juliet and Sidney, the authors have moved me deeply. Their need for community and mental occupation led to the formation of their literary society which brought them together, healed their wounds, and gave them Juliet. I'm filled with love for this book. Thank you, Mary Ann and Annie for writing it.
When I was casting around for a new story to tell, my editor at Random House, Jane von Mehren, gave me a copy of Rules for Old Men Waiting. I'm so glaWhen I was casting around for a new story to tell, my editor at Random House, Jane von Mehren, gave me a copy of Rules for Old Men Waiting. I'm so glad she did. In the twilight of his life, the protagonist, Robert McIver, writes a list, the most important item on it is to "tell as story to its end." This sets up the story within the story, unfolding as Robert invents scenes from World War I which allow him to tell his sensibilities. Introspective, quiet, yet with one shocking scene. An unusual love story.
This novel came to me at just the right time. As a result, elements from Rules for Old Men Waiting resulted in creating elements in Lisette's List, my work-in-progress, namely: three wars (though different wars); overcoming grief (though differently rendered); and a list (different again, of course). When a novel can spark the imagination and move a reader to tears, as Pouncey's novel has, it must be truly great. I'm going to read it again...more
This entry will be out of the ordinary. I wrote GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE,and somehow it appeared in the wrong place on Goodreads. I can't seem to removeThis entry will be out of the ordinary. I wrote GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE,and somehow it appeared in the wrong place on Goodreads. I can't seem to remove it, so I might as well supply a review.
NEW YORK TIMES December 19, 1999 Picture This: A novel of a haunting painting and its effect on a succession of owners over three centuries. Girl in Hyacinth Blue, by Susan Vreeland by Katy Emck Susan Vreeland's second novel, "Girl in Hyacinth Blue," may be a book about a painting, but it is never content with surfaces. Tracing the influence of one extraordinary picture on a succession of human lives, it touches gently yet thoughtfully on such weighty topics as the immortality of a great artwork and the ways in which art can be used for various ends. In the course of her explorations, Vreeland covers a lot of time and space: "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" begins in present-day America and ends in the 17th century Netherlands, scrolling backward as each chapter accounts for the painting's role in the life of one of its owners. Among other things, Vreeland has given us an art detective story, since the early chapters suggest that this marvelous painting--a portrait of a young girl whose face seems to be filled with dreams and longings--may be a lost Vermeer. When we first encounter it, the picture is hidden from view, its possession the dark secret of a lonely mathematician whose father looted it from a Dutch Jewish family that he then sent to die in a concentration camp. Horrified by his father's crimes, he worships the painting with obsessional fervor, fearing that if anyone sees it, the secret of its provenance will come to light. But, as is the way with such things, he also feels compelled to show off his trophy. The chapter that displays the mathematician's solitary, guilt-filled pleasure is followed by another that provides a lively view of the close-knit Jewish family from whom the painting was stolen--and particularly of the young daughter who identifies with its subject, a girl just about her own age. This sequence establishes the pattern for the book's structure: each chapter stands on its own, a marvel of economy, yet also builds on the knowledge the reader has already gained. Vreeland is especially good at conveying the tensions that arise among her characters but go largely unspoken. She is also adept at capturing the differing sensibilities of various historical periods, working unobtrusively and successfully avoiding a contrived "period" feel. In the process, she provides her own nicely sketched gallery of portraits: a frivolous Frenchwoman marooned in a loveless marriage in the 19th-century Netherlands; an 18th-century farmer's wife hungering for beauty in the midst of the flat Dutch countryside; and an Enlightenment scientist who embarks on an affair with a superstitious serving girl. In all these episodes, the painting is pivotal, both in a practical and a spiritual sense. The aristocratic Frenchwoman hates all things Dutch except the girl in the painting because she recognizes in her a sense of hope that she herself has lost. The farmer's wife loves the same girl because she symbolizes a serene loveliness that is unattainable for people who labor in the fields. In the end, each woman is forced to sell the painting so that each, in her own very different way, can survive. But for each of them, the possession of "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" leads to profound changes. This conflict of the spiritual and the practical comes to dominate the final chapters of the novel in which the exigencies of the painter's life are movingly brought to the fore. Like many of its predecessors, the penultimate chapter is filled with a sense of tenderness, of gratitude for the gift of life--a mood that doesn't cloy because it is accompanied by a clear evocation of the daily stresses of loving and living. But the crowning chapter is the final one, which introduces the girl in the picture and provides a glimpse of what is actually going on behind those dreamy eyes. Throughout "Girl in Hyacinth Blue," Vreeland strikes a pleasant balance between the timeless world of the painting as a work of art and the finite worlds of its possessors and admirers--not to mention the world of its subject and its creator. Intelligent, searching and unusual, the novel is filled with luminous moments; like the painting it describes so well, it has a way of lingering in the reader's mind.
Katy Emck is a freelance reviewer based in London.
I bought this book from Main Street Books, a small independent bookstore in St. Charles, Missouri while I was on tour, because of its appealing medievI bought this book from Main Street Books, a small independent bookstore in St. Charles, Missouri while I was on tour, because of its appealing medieval cover (hardback is different from what is pictured here) and because the flap copy told me enough that I knew it would interest me: women, reading, paintings of women reading, seven time periods, historical and future. Bingo! Right on target for me. It has kept me company on flights and in hotel rooms. Katie Ward is subtle, suggestive, evocative, and clever. I've just read two of the seven chapters, but that's enough to know I will appreciate her writing throughout. Her protagonists are sympathetic, and her structure is intriguing. She lets the reader figure out the decisions left off the page and the outcome. So far, a very unusual book challenging to my reading acuity...more
So deep, so spiritual, yet so human that I need to read it again to grasp all that this intimate yet chatty novel offers. The protagonist is lovable iSo deep, so spiritual, yet so human that I need to read it again to grasp all that this intimate yet chatty novel offers. The protagonist is lovable in his self-revelation and his musings on life and heaven and humans. His pure humility makes me humble--in a deep way. And witty, too. Listen to this: "I have been so full of admiration for existence that I have hardly been able to enjoy it properly." You've got to love such a soul-baring man.
Warning, his self-questioning, self-assessment may seem irritating to some readers....more