Vreeland’s love for Renoir is made palpable in this brilliant reconstruction.

LUNCHEON OF THE BOATING PARTY

In her fourth art-related historical, Vreeland (Girl in Hyacinth Blue, 1999, etc.) provides an in-depth look at one of Renoir’s most famous paintings (its name is her novel’s title).

Maison Fournaise, on the Seine outside of Paris, is one of Renoir’s favorite haunts. One July day in 1880, the 39-year-old artist is at the restaurant/hotel/boat rental when he reads a Zola essay critical of the Impressionists. It goads him into action. He will paint a scene of boaters on the upper terrace, a wide canvas work that will surpass his Montmartre spectacle Bal au Moulin de la Galette. But time is short and money is tight. He has just two months to take advantage of the summer light. He must find money for paints, for modeling fees and for eight Sunday luncheons for his group. The female models must be women he could love. Alphonsine and Angèle are naturals; the former is the owner’s daughter, the latter a bawdy child of Montmartre; both women glow with vitality. He adds the self-styled Circe, beautiful but temperamental, foisted on him by a salon hostess; she will provoke a crisis when she quits, refusing to be done in profile. Renoir finds a miraculous replacement in Aline, a 19-year-old seamstress he will marry, years later. There are other model problems: One man is involved in a duel; there is constant anxiety over the total number (13 must be avoided). Vreeland maintains the suspense while skillfully providing context. The traumas of the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune are only ten years distant; Alphonsine is a war widow, a male model is a wounded veteran. The politics of the art world are unremitting; the once-cohesive Impressionists are now split three ways. Degas mocks Renoir for seeing life through rose-colored glasses; too bad. Joyful conviviality is as valid as squalor. The finished product affirms Renoir’s credo: “Art was love made visible.”

Vreeland’s love for Renoir is made palpable in this brilliant reconstruction.

Pub Date: May 7, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-670-03854-1

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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