Archive for the ‘art’ Tag

AIDS, Friendship and Acceptance   Leave a comment

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The Great Believers begins in 1985 Chicago when a group of friends, who’ve been excluded from a funeral, gather to celebrate Nico’s life. He died of AIDS. It’s early days of the epidemic and their friend’s death foretells of what lies ahead for many.

Yale Tishman is among the group, as is Fiona, younger sister of the deceased. Nico’s parents kicked him out of the family home years ago, but Fiona stayed in contact providing him food, money and support as best she could. Consequently, she grew up around Nico’s circle of friends, including Yale.

Time is an element of Rebecca Makkai’s novel which alternates between Chicago 1985/86 and Paris 2015. The earlier period focuses on Yale. He’s a development director for an art gallery, is in a monogamous relationship and comes across as an intelligent, sensitive young man. Through Fiona he’s put in touch with her aunt with an art collection from the 1920s Yale tries to secure for his gallery.

The latter time frame follows Fiona to Paris in her attempt to locate her estranged daughter and granddaughter. The younger Fiona is more interesting than the older version. She took care of Nico, and many of his friends, as they contracted AIDS. She apparently exhausted her caretaking abilities when it came to her immediate family.

Still, the beauty of the novel lies in the power of friendship and acceptance. Yale, and others, faced threats and, initially, medical care for AIDS patients was scattered, at best.

The Great Believers

Four Bookmarks

Viking, 2018

421 pages

Binge reading   Leave a comment

I finally did it: binged on three* Louise Penny novels back to back. There’s still another to read, but since it isn’t on my nightstand (per my New Year’s Books Resolution), it has to wait.

Most readers I know are fans of the Inspector Armand Gamache series. To those few who admit to me they aren’t, we can still be friends; although, I am disappointed.

Nonetheless, I’ll focus on All the Devils are Here, which allows me to also highlight what I enjoy so much about Penny’s work: the relatable characters, the descriptions (and significance) of settings, and, of course, the mystery to be solved. Unlike most of the previous novels, this one is set in Paris, with brief references to Three Pines, the small, tight-knit community in rural Quebec.  I was initially disappointed the usual cast of characters (residents of Three Pines) was relegated to barely-existent roles. Yet, Paris is, after all, a magical place, which comes to life through the author’s vivid imagery of people, sites and food – lots of food.

In addition to the mystery at hand, are several back stories: Armand’s relationship with his estranged son Daniel; the imminent birth of his granddaughter; and his memories of visiting the City of Lights.

Suspicions abound as Gamache works to discover who tried to kill his godfather. The inspector encounters corporate espionage, corrupt police and rumors involving the French Resistance. It’s an intriguing combination. This and the benevolent qualities of her main character are what Penny does best.

All the Devils are Here

Four Bookmarks

Minotaur Books, 2020

439 pages

*Kingdom of the Blind

A Better Man

All the Devils are Here

Ageless Friendship   Leave a comment

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot: A Novel: Cronin, Marianne:  9780063017504: Amazon.com: Books

The 100 Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin is about the sustaining and enduring power of friendship. Lenni is the 17-year-old narrator hospitalized with “life-limiting” cancer –  usually referred to as terminal. She meets 83-year-old Margot and an immediate bond is formed. Between them is a 100-year-old life.

Lenni’s acerbic, insightful humor is beyond her age. This isn’t a criticism; it makes sense given her situation. She’s a no-nonsense teen who doesn’t get to live the life of a healthy teenager. She still manages to sling attitude, though. Yet, she makes the most of her situation: she’s curious, so she meets with the hospital chaplain; she creative, so she has the idea to collaborate with Margot to share their life stories through art. Each painting is associated with a particular and significant situation, which they reveal to each other. The result, besides bringing them closer, is a compelling narrative rich with life’s joys and sorrows.

Lenni’s parents never visit, which is eventually explained. Whether intentional or not, Lenni creates her own family within the hospital. Father Arthur, New Nurse , Paul the Porter, the Temp and Pippa the art teacher are those with whom she has meaningful relationships.

Cronin’s characters are vividly portrayed. The novel is both heartwarming and heart wrenching. After all, the word terminal is stated on page one. The friendship with Margot transcends age. Although Lenni will never have Margot’s experiences, she’s able to appreciate what life does offer, and everyone is enriched by knowing Lenni.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot                                                                                Four+ Bookmarks                                                          HarperCollins, 2021                                                                            326 pages, plus Reading Group Guide and Author Interview                                                                         

The Personal Librarian   Leave a comment

The story of Belle da Costa Greene is important on many levels: her contributions to the art world; her success as a female in the male-dominated society of the early 1900s; and achieving the above as a woman of color.

Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray have crafted a novel based on da Costa Greene, nee Belle Marion Greener the daughter of Black parents. Their fair skin tones were passed along to their children allowing them to pass as Caucasians. The deceit led to the Greeners’ divorce, but allowed Belle and her siblings to live free of racial prejudices.

J.P. Morgan hired Belle as his personal librarian to curate rare books, art, manuscripts and more. Belle proved herself to be a formidable negotiator at auctions when she was often the only woman in the room. The J. Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City holds invaluable collections thanks to Belle’s acquisitions. She was also instrumental in ensuring the library be a public one.

The fast-paced narrative is taut with tension. The importance of Belle hiding her identity is paramount as her prominence among the rich and powerful grows. Although her role as personal librarian allowed her to provide well for her mother and siblings, this was much more than a job to Belle. It was her passion.

The authors allude to speculation that Belle and Morgan had more than a professional relationship; but that remains a mystery. Nonetheless, the shared passion for the one-of-a-kind works was the mainstay of their bond.

The Personal Librarian

Four+ Bookmarks

Berkley, 2021

341 pages (includes author’s notes and acknowledgements)

Art in History   2 comments

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The Night Portrait by Laura Morelli has four narrators: two from the Renaissance and two associated with World War II. The result is a gripping story about the importance of art and its redemptive qualities — both as masterpieces are created and later rescued.

Edith is a German art restorer for a museum in Munich at the outbreak of the war. She’s ordered to catalog the artwork confiscated in Poland by the Nazis. Most of the pieces are destined for a museum Hitler plans to build, but high ranking officers keep some for their own private collections. This includes a painting by Leonardo Da Vinci.

The painting is the link to the Renaissance. Cecilia Gallerani recounts her life as the mistress of the lord of Milan in the late 1400s; DaVinci, the other narrator in this time period, is commissioned to paint her portrait.

In 1944-45, the war is nearing its end and there’s work to be done. Dominic, an Army GI, is part of a squad charged with guarding a small group of the Monuments Men, the allied troops trying to locate the hidden, stolen art.

The connections among the four narrators works well. Each chapter/speaker is clearly identified, not only by name and year, but by distinctions in voice, descriptions of the era.

Morelli addresses several issues, including Edith’s sense of guilt, Dominic’s discovery of purpose, Cecilia’s realization she will never be the lady of the manor, and DaVinci’s efforts to establish himself not only as a painter, but an inventor.

The Night Portrait

Four Bookmarks

William Morrow, 2020

455 pages

Sculpting a Life From Wax   Leave a comment

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Period novels usually aren’t my thing. It could be the often flowery language, the popular use of first person narrative, the topic, the je ne sais pas. Little by Edward Carey, while guilty of the above, including the French, is captivating. The story, based on the early life of Madame Tussaud known for her wax sculptures of celebrities, is rich with humor, pathos, historical references and lively characters.

Born Anne Marie Grosholtz in 1761, Marie, as she was generally called until her diminutive size warranted the nickname “Little,” recounts her family background. She literally begins with her birth. Interspersed among the details of her life are drawings. The first identified as “Drawn by herself. In graphite, charcoal, and black chalk. (This being a likeness of her pencil.)” It’s difficult not to smile, although not all of the subsequent illustrations are humorous.

As a child, her life circumstances dramatically change following the death of her parents when she’s relegated to becoming a servant. Yet, Little is witty, intelligent and has a sharp power of observation: Traits that serve her well as her creativity and talents expand.

Little learns the craft of waxwork from the odd Dr. Curtius, who at first sculpted body parts and organs out of wax. Initially, he treats her as a ward. When the pair moves to Paris from Switzerland, her station is reduced to kitchen maid.

Carey’s epic follows the French Revolution with Little’s indomitable spirit whose name bears no reflection on her inner strength and kindness.

Little
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2018
435 pages

Wine Tales   Leave a comment

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When I was a kid, my grandparents lived in Napa. I dreaded the inevitable drives with my parents through the valley to the small, mostly-family-run wineries. Curvy and narrow roads and not being old enough to even sip wine further contributed to my discomfort.

The roads remain narrow, but seem to wind less; my grandparents aren’t alive, and now there are more wineries than I could have ever imagined. Several years ago, my husband and I discovered HALL Wines, so I looked forward to reading A Perfect Score by Craig and Kathryn Hall.

The co-proprietors of HALL and WALT Wines are relative newcomers to the industry; they didn’t launch their first wines until 1995. Although, Kathryn grew up on her parents’ vineyard in Mendocino County (California); Craig, on the other hand, admits to once having little knowledge of wines.

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This is several stories woven into one: How the couple met, came to purchase property in the Napa and Sonoma valleys and ultimately how one of their wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon, earned 100 points from wine critic Robert Parker, Jr., in 2013.

The Halls had their share of setbacks, but their apparent optimistic dispositions and a lot of good luck served them well. The book addresses life in Napa Valley, the camaraderie among vintners, the concerns of neighbors regarding the Halls’ construction plans, the philanthropy of winemakers, the caliber of the Hall staff and more.

This is a quick, fun read and made me want to open a bottle of HALL wine.

A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st Century Winery
Three Bookmarks
Center Street, 2016
207 pages

Love and Vengeance   Leave a comment

My favorite passage by Lauren Groff is where she signed my copy of Fates and Furies at the request of my son Tim’s girlfriend. Groff wrote: “Robin – Mariana is the most beautiful and wonderful, isn’t she!” The answer is yes. It is such a stark contrast to the tenor of the novel; I’m led to believe that Groff doesn’t have it out for everyone, which is a comforting thought.

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The novel is divided into two categories: fates and furies. The first section begins with newlyweds, Lotto and Mathilde, consummating their marriage on the beach, but he is the focus here. It’s all about him: childhood, banishment from his family to boarding school, college days and efforts to succeed as an actor are portrayed in detail; but not too much as to squelch the imagination. Little is revealed about Mathilde – until furies, which is aptly named.

In an effort to avoid the need for spoiler alerts, suffice it to say there are elements of Gone Girl meets Claire Underwood.

Groff’s writing is clever, humorous and rich in detail. The references to various plays and Greek tragedies, however, are distracting metaphors.

Full of unlikable characters, the book, nonetheless, was appealing. Lotto’s a selfish man who exudes charm. Real charm, not something he turns on and off at will. Mathilde is mysterious and bitchy. They are flawed thanks to the characteristics Groff imbues in them. Neither is someone I want to meet, but I was more than content to know them through the distance of fiction.

Fates and Furies
Four Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2015
391 pages

Growing up With Good Taste   Leave a comment

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Foodies and artists, often one in the same, should enjoy Lucy Knisley’s comic book memoir, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen. It’s humorous, educational and a quick read.

At an early age her parents instilled an appreciation of gourmet food. I’d like to think I did, too, with my own kids, but I never considered serving my toddler children poached salmon. I did, however, insist that they at least try new things even if they only took one bite. The result – years later – is they all have fine palates and enjoy a good meal.

But back to Knisley.

She shares stories about leaving the City for upstate New York following her parents’ divorce. She relates her initial displeasure at having to be around farms, chickens and seed stores. Eventually, her text and accompanying illustrations reflect a tone of gratitude. It’s clear she has good relationships with both parents, but she does include some of the rough spots they endured. These were, no surprise, Knisley’s teenage years. She makes no effort to (literally) draw herself in a better light; this is a highlight.

Humor underlies these chronicles of coming-of-age, food cravings, travel and love for her parents. Knisely also includes illustrated recipes, cooking tips and explanations of cooking techniques.

Among my favorite chapters is the account of her efforts to recreate the croissants she so enjoyed in Italy. Her determination is as evident as her failure, but her humor saves the day. This is always the best ingredient no matter the endeavor.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen
Five Bookmarks
First Second Books, 2013
173 pages

 

From Russia With Art   1 comment

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Anthony Marra is the master of foreshadowing. At times he’s subtle, then he’s as obvious as an agitated teenager reeking of cigarettes claiming he doesn’t smoke. This was true of his first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and follows suit in his most recent: The Tsar of Love and Techno.

Marra has chosen a similar setting in Russia with another interesting cast of characters; however, he spans more time, beginning in 1937 continuing to present day. He expands the setting from Siberia to Leningrad/St. Petersburg to Chechnya: landscape is a crucial element.

The narrative begins with an artist in the propaganda department whose job is to erase enemies of the state whose images appear in paintings and photographs. He does this by blotting out faces with ink or by painting something new, which is often his dead brother’s face. It appears in a myriad of scenes representing various phases of his life: child, teenager, middle age and old age.

With each chapter comes a new narrator, in a different setting providing a singular element to the overall novel. The stories are a progression. It’s no spoiler alert to note that the pieces do eventually fit together (very well). Even if they didn’t, Marra’s writing is full of wit and pathos. The images of the pollution-wreaked mining community in Siberia are stark and frigid; just as a Chechnyan hillside is pastoral and warm. The men and women introduced by the author are so human their breath practically turns the pages.

The Tzar of Love and Techno
Four bookmarks
Hogarth, 2015
365 pages