Michelle's Reviews > Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa

Vanished Smile by R.A. Scotti
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Aug 16, 2011

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bookshelves: historical-non-fiction, non-fiction
Read from August 16 to 21, 2011

Interesting (and little-known) true story about the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in the early 20th century, and Apollinaire and Picasso's involvement. The voice is beautiful, and much of the time I felt I was reading a novel, not a book of history. Unfortunately, the book suffers from poor organization that makes it lag in the middle and end with a soft thud instead of a bang.

The beginning reads like a mystery. The guards at the Louvre have just discovered that the Mona Lisa is missing. They have no idea when it was taken--no one really noticed because paintings would disappear from the walls all the time to be photographed, per the instructions of the Louvre's curator. They set off on an international hunt for the thief and his stolen goods.

This section ends with a slightly confusing anticlimax, however, as Apollinaire and Picasso enter the scene as culprits but no Mona Lisa appears. Then there's a long, disordered section about da Vinci and who the real Mona Lisa might have been. Only after this do we get back to the mystery, when the painting turns up two years later. I understand why the author chose this sequence, but she chose the wrong point in the mystery to break it up. Had she introduced the scandal of the missing Mona Lisa without getting into the hunt for it, then jumped back to its history, the story would have been much easier to follow. We would then have had the background information when we began the search, and the Apollinaire-Picasso story would not have seemed an anticlimactic end to the hunt. It would have smoothly transitioned to two years later, when the Mona Lisa resurfaced and we finally have the climax.

I picked up a few interesting tidbits from Vanishing Smile, so probably worth a read if you're interested in art and the time period.
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