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Girl in Hyacinth Blue Paperback – October 1, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (October 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014029628X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140296280
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 4.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (295 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There are only 35 known Vermeers extant in the world today. In Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreeland posits the existence of a 36th. The story begins at a private boys' academy in Pennsylvania where, in the wake of a faculty member's unexpected death, math teacher Cornelius Engelbrecht makes a surprising revelation to one of his colleagues. He has, he claims, an authentic Vermeer painting, "a most extraordinary painting in which a young girl wearing a short blue smock over a rust-colored skirt sat in profile at a table by an open window." His colleague, an art teacher, is skeptical and though the technique and subject matter are persuasively Vermeer-like, Engelbrecht can offer no hard evidence--no appraisal, no papers--to support his claim. He says only that his father, "who always had a quick eye for fine art, picked it up, let us say, at an advantageous moment." Eventually it is revealed that Engelbrecht's father was a Nazi in charge of rounding up Dutch Jews for deportation and that the picture was looted from one doomed family's home:
That's when I saw that painting, behind his head. All blues and yellows and reddish brown, as translucent as lacquer. It had to be a Dutch master. Just then a private found a little kid covered with tablecloths behind some dishes in a sideboard cabinet. We'd almost missed him.
By the end of "Love Enough," this first of eight interrelated stories tracing the history of "Girl in Hyacinth Blue," the painting's fate at the hands of guilt-riddled Engelbrecht fils is in question. Unfortunately, there is no doubt about the probable destiny of the previous owners, the Vredenburg family of Rotterdam, who take center stage in the powerful "A Night Different From All Other Nights." Vreeland handles this tale with subtlety and restraint, setting it at Passover, the year before the looting, and choosing to focus on the adolescent Hannah Vredenburg's difficult passage into adulthood in the face of an uncertain future. In the next story, "Adagia," she moves even further into the past to sketch "how love builds itself unconsciously ... out of the momentous ordinary" in a tender portrait of a longtime marriage. Back and back Vreeland goes, back through other owners, other histories, to the very inception of the painting in the homely, everyday objects of the Vermeer household--a daughter's glass of milk, a son's shirt in need of buttons, a wife's beloved sewing basket--"the unacknowledged acts of women to hallow home." Girl in Hyacinth Blue ends with the painting's subject herself, Vermeer's daughter Magdalena, who first sends the portrait out into the world as payment for a family debt, then sees it again, years later at an auction.
She thought of all the people in all the paintings she had seen that day, not just Father's, in all the paintings of the world, in fact. Their eyes, the particular turn of a head, their loneliness or suffering or grief was borrowed by an artist to be seen by other people throughout the years who would never see them face to face. People who would be that close to her, she thought, a matter of a few arms' lengths, looking, looking, and they would never know her.
In this final passage, Susan Vreeland might be describing her own masterpiece as well as Vermeer's. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

As Keats describes the scenes and lives frozen in a moment of time on his Grecian urn, so Vreeland layers moments in the lives of eight people profoundly moved and changed by a Vermeer painting a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Vreeland opens with a man who suffers through his adoration of the painting because he inherited it from his Nazi father, who stole it from a deported Jewish family. She traces the work's provenance through the centuries: the farmer's wife, the Bohemian student, the loving husband with a secret and, finally, the Girl herself Vermeer's eldest daughter, who felt her "self" obliterated by the self immortalized in paint, but accepted that this was the nature of art. Descriptions of the painting by people in different countries in various historical periods are particularly beautiful. Each section is read by a different narrator, some better than others. Several add dimension to the story and writing, while others are so intent on portraying the book's ethereal qualities they make the listener conscious of the reader instead of the language. Still, this is a delightful production. Based on the MacMurray & Beck hardcover (Forecasts, July 12, 1999).
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Susan Vreeland's short fiction has appeared in journals such as The Missouri Review, Confrontation, New England Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review. Her first novel, What Love Sees, was made into a CBS Sunday Night Movie. She teaches English literature and Art in San Diego public schools.

Customer Reviews

The book felt pieced together until the end which flowed a little better.
Booklover
She uses her words to paint eight very different stories about the people who have owned this painting throughout time and their struggles in life.
Gwyneth Calvetti
This is a beautifully written book that tells the story of a single painting by Dutch Master Vermeer.
"sylsbooks"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Dianna Setterfield on September 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
The concept of this novel, tracing the history of a painting by going back in time chapter by chapter, is just my cup of tea. Susan Vreeland has done an excellent job in transferring this unique notion to paper. I've always enjoyed antiques and wondered about its origination; Girl in Hyacinth Blue was like a dream come true in that respect.
The story begins with math professor, Cornelius Engelbrecht. He was bequeathed a painting from his father, who claims it a masterpiece by the Dutch artist Vermeer. There are no papers to prove this statement; however, the bigger picture is the way Cornelius's father obtained the painting...a way that has haunted him all his life.
Each chapter moves back in time to the previous owner of the painting. Readers follow the painting from the wall of Cornelius's father to the actual inspiration and creation of it. Each vignette houses new sets of characters with the painting as its central core. Slowly, with each turning page, we reveal another part of the painting's history, layer by layer, and what it has meant to the people whose lives it touched.
Girl in Hyacinth Blue made for a wonderful reading experience. I recommend this novel to those who enjoy lovely period pieces or like getting to the bare bones of a story. A very in depth and beautiful premise. I have Susan's next book on my list.
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95 of 99 people found the following review helpful By Kimberly Rhodes on January 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Susan Vreeland lovingly pieces together a quilt of provenance in this book; instead of cataloguing a dry list of names and dates of ownership for the imaginary Vermeer painting of a young girl sewing at its center, she provides the reader with interwoven stories beginning in the present and traveling back in time to 17th-century Delft that explore the circumstances of its inspiration, ownership, secrets and renunciation. In doing this, she succeeds in exploring the emotional, aesthetic and sensual ties that bind people to art and to each other across time and place. The strength of this book is its core of tenderness, which sometimes teeters on the verge of sentimentality, especially when Vermeer is the subject, but thematically anchors the disparate stories. Vreeland's language, however, does not often match Vermeer's delicate pictorial vocabulary; she is often awkward and overwrought and her sense of period detail is spotty. Read this book for its insight not into Vermeer's art and his milieu, but the human heart and its everlasting craving for beauty and connection and peace.
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72 of 75 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Girl in Hyacinth Blue",eight short stories of a possible Vermeer masterpiece, is a work of art in itself. Vreeland paints with artful, descriptive thoughts, as her palette and brushes. She takes the reader backward through time on an adventure that gives an inner view of the families that have owned "The Painting"and how it's beauty touched there lives. Her detail makes one think that she must have lived through all of these times. She skillfully renders, the artist who,"Painted Her", and his turbulent struggle of balancing his duty with reality as a father and husband........... and as an artist, struggling to focus at the center of his Art. Vreeland touches that vulnerable part of every artist who feels that they are alone in that same struggle. The feeling at the end of the book is ,"Just one more story...."
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60 of 64 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
When a shy, private-school math teacher, Cornelius Engelbrecht, discovers a canvas thought to be a Vermeer, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, a touching and beautifully-written book, begins a fascinating journey back through time to trace the history of the painting.
Engelbrecht's father's dying words had been, "An eye like a blue pearl," referring to the female figure in the painting, that of a young woman in a blue smock and rust-colored skirt, standing beside an open window. Although Cornelius feels captivated by the painting, he also feels a sense of shame at how it came to be in his father's possession.
From the revelation of what, exactly, the elder Engelbrecht did, we then move backward through time from the point of view of one owner to another, all the way back to the painting's point of origin. Each time the painting changes hands, there are high hopes, a time of optimism, until it finally falls into Cornelius' hands and he realizes how it has been tainted by history. The single thread running through each story, the one that connects each character, is this lovely painting, the painting of the Girl in Hyacinth Blue.
One of the most fascinating things about this lovely little book are the details of family life and the history that can be found in each vignette. Like the painting, each "story-within-the-novel" seems to be a frozen moment in time and Vreeland's language in painting her own word portrait is both formal and concise as she offers lush detail and wonderful insight. Much in the book is tender and sad and it truly touches the heart. We feel the pain of these characters and identify with their suffering. They are real people and we can almost believe the painting is real as well.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Antoinette Klein on November 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
Susan Vreeland has magically grouped a series of short stories and takes the reader from the present day owner of a Vermeer painting back in time to 17th century Amsterdam and the young girl who was the artist's subject.
Along the way, the reader is treated to magnificent insights into the effects paintings have on those who view them, the bonds people make with art, and the joy and hope that a painting can give to even the most destitute.
The story of Vermeer's rendering of a young girl gazing out the window begins at a posh boys' academy. The current owner, a professor, is considering destroying the work to make amends for his Nazi father's sins. The future of the painting remains in doubt, but its history unfolds in a remarkable series of vignettes. Most notable to me was the story of a young farm wife who, in the midst of trying to survive a great flood, finds the painting with an abandoned baby boy in a boat. An attached note says "Sell the painting. Feed the child." The reader is also treated to other stories including that of a young Jewish girl, a middle-aged man who remembers his first love that he lost, a couple whose marriage dissolves---all these events and more witnessed silently by the young girl in the painting.
If you enjoy period pieces and revel in being part of the poignant moments in the lives of people, you will enjoy this remarkable little story.
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