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GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE by Susan Vreeland

GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE

By Susan Vreeland

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1999
ISBN: 1-878448-90-0

Vreeland’s wonderful second outing (What Love Sees, 1996, not seen) is a novel made of stories, each delving farther into the provenance of a Vermeer painting, and each capturing a moment of life, much as the great painter did himself. The only wobble in this elegant little book is at the start, where a stiffness in character may be intended but jars even so: a high-school math teacher confides to a colleague that he owns (and adores) a painting—of a girl sewing at a window—that he knows is a Vermeer. All the evidence—of technique, color, subject—is there, yet the painting lacks documentation to validate its authenticity: nor will the math teacher, one Cornelius Engelbrecht, tell just how it became his. The reader is more privileged, though, and learns quickly enough that Engelbrecht’s Nazi father stole it in 1940 from a doomed Jewish family in Amsterdam. Such reader-privilege becomes an overwhelming emotional test when Vreeland goes back to visit that family, in that year, just before the theft (—A Night Different From All Other Nights—). Farther back still, a happily married Dutch couple owns the painting—and when the husband admits that the girl in it reminds him of an earlier lover, the marriage is briefly shaken (—Adagia—). Set when Beethoven’s Eroica symphony is “new,” “Hyacinth Blues” offers a biting bit of social satire—and lets the reader discover just how the painting’s papers did in fact get lost. Still deeper back goes Vreeland, taking up with masterful insight, feeling, and control the life of a small Dutch farm family caught in the great flood of 1717; of a young engineer who loves, loses (pathetically), and hands on the painting; of Vermeer himself as he paints the picture, struggling against debt, father of 11; and, in a wondrous, bittersweet epiphany, of the daughter herself whom Vermeer chose as his model. Extraordinarily skilled historical fiction: deft, perceptive, full of learning, deeply moving.