In my daily job as a reading teacher, I teach the kid's to ask themselves two questions while reading to check understanding: who? and what? So, to ask these questions of Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland. Who? A painting.
A painting? The who in the book is a painting? A reading teacher may suspect a problem with comprehension. We usually expect the book to be about something living - a person, or animal, perhaps. Or maybe even about a place.
In Girl in Hyacinth Blue, the main 'character' , so to speak, is indeed, a painting. A painting that may or may not be a Vermeer. There are only 35 known Vermeers in existence, and the fictional painting in this novel, is suggesting it may be the 36th. The painting evokes strong emotions and reactions from nearly all who view it.
And to ask "What?" Through a series of engaging stories that trace the history of the painting by beginning in the 21st century and working back through time, the painting changes hands and circumstances throughout the years. We meet a introspective man who is obsessed by the painting, while being haunted by what he knows of how is father obtained it during war time in Amsterdam and a struggling farm family where the wife tries to resist her husband's wish to selling the painting for a pittance although her children need food and warm clothes. The painting sits sentry over the memories of a first love, watches as a marriage unravels and provides the only warmth and light in a home no more than a hovel.
The last story answers some of the mystery that surrounds the artwork through the years. But many of the questions linger. What is the true value of a work of art? Is it monetary or is it the feeling and emotions it provokes? How can an inanimate object inspire such extremes of emotion? And finally, the question posed by the artist himself, "Why does the world need another painting of a woman alone in a room? Or a hundred more paintings?"
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of books I have finished and then turned back to the first page and started reading again. This is one of them.
This book would make a nice stocking stuff or Holiday gift for an art lover.
NOW, a chance to win a free copy of this book! Visit the shop of one of the Wisconsin Street Team Etsy Seller's by clicking on one of the shop links to the right of this entry. Come back and post a comment about a favorite item. Your comment must be posted by next Tuesday, November 17. The winning entry will be randomly drawn and announced in two weeks in the next Tuesday Book Review on November 24.
The book review feature runs every other Tuesday (or nearly so!) Contact Mimi at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have suggestions or would like to submit a review for the blog.