Meisler throws new light on Soutine and, more broadly, on the experiences of aspiring immigrant artists in the city that...




The story of immigrant artists who were celebrated as the School of Paris.

Histories of bohemian Paris usually feature Matisse, Picasso and their circle. Former Los Angeles Times diplomatic correspondent Meisler (When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years, 2011, etc.) takes a fresh view by highlighting three artistic iconoclasts who happened to be Jewish immigrants: Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and, the author’s central focus, Chaim Soutine (1893-1943). Critic André Warnod publicized them as the School of Paris, talented foreigners who emigrated, he said, with “hardly anything else in their baggage but the will to enrich their art with what they find among us.” Meisler found considerable material to document the lives and works of Modigliani and Chagall, but Soutine proved elusive. With no letters, memoirs or personal notes to draw upon, the author still puts together a vivid portrait of a difficult, irascible man, markedly unlike the gregarious Chagall or suave Modigliani. Unattractive and noticeably unkempt, Soutine’s emotional temperament emerged in his work: A predominant trait “was the thickness of the paint with its dynamic swirls, bolstering the belief that the artist must have attacked the canvas in some kind of frenzy.” When a painting failed to meet his expectations, he violently slashed it. Meisler finds recurring instances of Soutine’s “paralytic shyness, his foolish naiveté, his volatile anger and his sometimes-cursed relations with those who wanted to embrace him.” Among those were a wealthy patron, Madeleine Castaing, whom Meisler interviewed; and Albert Barnes, the eccentric collector who discovered Soutine during an early buying trip. Soutine’s works, Barnes exclaimed, “were a surprise, if not a shock….I felt he was making creative use of certain traits of the work of Bosch, Tintoretto, Van Gogh, Daumier and Cézanne, and was getting new effects with color.”

Meisler throws new light on Soutine and, more broadly, on the experiences of aspiring immigrant artists in the city that fostered their dreams.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-137-27880-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.


An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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