Une jolie Parisienne in Provence during the turbulent World War II years comes to understand love and great art to the core of her being.
In a sweeping historical novel set
in Vichy, France, Lisette Roux, a 20-year-old bride who longs for
“window-shopping, cabaret hopping, gallery gazing,” grudgingly moves out of
Paris to the rural south to take care of her new husband André’s aging grandfather in 1937. “How are we going to survive
in a town without a gallery?” she asks in dismay. But Pascal is not your
An ochre miner–turned–pigment salesman, he befriended young, unappreciated
painters and amassed a collection of Cézanne, Pissarro and Picasso paintings. After Pascal dies,
the loving couple is cast out of an Edenic existence following the German
invasion of France. André
enlists to fight the Nazis and meets a tragic end midway through the book.
Lisette’s short stay in Provence stretches out more than a decade, prolonged by
the war and her determined attempt to find Pascal’s pictures, which André hid for safekeeping before going to war. Lisette’s
sensibility deepens as she grows closer to former prisoner of war Maxime
fellow soldier and best friend. Marc and Bella Chagall, hiding in Provence
because they are Jewish, show up for a brief but blazing cameo appearance.
Vreeland, who has proven in earlier art-themed best-sellers that she has an
exquisite eye for detail, is enormously talented at establishing the important
societal role of art, particularly relevant here as the Nazis both steal and
burn it. While her prose can get a bit fluffy (“apricot trees blossoming with
pinkish-white petals like flakes of the moon”) and the book wraps up a tad too
tidily, her deeply researched novel is mesmerizing.
Merveilleux. Vreeland’s passionate writing is as good as a
private showing at the Louvre.