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308 Reviews
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107 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and lovely...
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...
Published on September 14, 2001 by Dianna Setterfield

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96 of 100 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars girl in hyacinth blue
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...
Published on January 17, 2000 by Kimberly Rhodes


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107 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and lovely..., September 14, 2001
This review is from: Girl in Hyacinth Blue (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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96 of 100 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars girl in hyacinth blue, January 17, 2000
This review is from: Girl in Hyacinth Blue (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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74 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book that I have read in years......a must-read!!!!, October 6, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Girl in Hyacinth Blue (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
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Journey Through Time, November 10, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Girl in Hyacinth Blue (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.
The central section of the book, and the one that is most fascinating, is called "Morningshine," and focuses on a Dutch family who are isolated in their farmhouse and surrounded by floodwaters. The following passage is indicative of Vreeland's beautiful, but rather spare, prose:
"Saskia opened the back shutters and looked out the upstairs south window early the second morning after the flood. Their farmhouse was an island apart from the world. Vapors of varying gray made the neighboring four farmhouses indistinct, yet there was a shine on the water like the polished pewter of her mother's kitchen back home. Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear, and it was so, she thought. But it wasn't so. And the cow would have to stay upstairs with them until it was so, however long that was, stay upstairs messing the floor and taking up half the room."
The above-passage clearly shows Vreeland's talent for evoking a sense of time and place. This is in evidence throughout the book and makes it highly atmospheric and charged with the energy of the times.
Moments of serendipity are scattered through Girl in Hyacinth Blue as are the harsh realities of the times: hunger, poverty, misery. At one point, in Saskia's story, she is scolded by her husband for feeding their hungry children the seed potatoes he intended to plant in the spring.
This is a fascinating and extremely well-written book, a little masterpiece, just like the Vermeer it creates. It is a book that will appeal to readers of popular literature and those with more literary tastes as well as to art lovers everywhere. Beauty, says Vreeland, is necessary to life. Judging from the beauty of this book, beauty might be just as necessary to life as are next season's seed potatoes.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Thing Of Beauty Is A Joy Forever, November 13, 2001
By 
Antoinette Klein (Hoover, Alabama USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Girl in Hyacinth Blue (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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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent link between art and literature, December 1, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Girl in Hyacinth Blue (Hardcover)
I was very impressed by this book. I admired the author's ability to handle multiple time periods with such fluidity. And to express the full range of human emotions and complexities without hystrionics. There was a touch of restraint throughout, a quietness that mirrored the contemplative nature of the painting. And with every story, the painting was described differently so that I never tired of hearing about it, and the painting meant something different to each protagonist. One of the most important aspects of visual arts is to touch the viewer somehow, and the author brought that out beautifully. She also handled major historical events as well as intimate family relationships, the micro to the macro, with such confidence. I feel this was one of the best books I've read.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Artfully written, a gem of a novel., January 29, 2000
This review is from: Girl in Hyacinth Blue (Hardcover)
All I did was open the book. From the first page I couldn't put it down. Never have I appreciated Vermeer so, until I saw his work through Susan Vreeland's eyes. Novels that transport the reader to another time and place are rare these days. This one does. I loved it!
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Stunning...A Work of Literary Art, April 26, 2001
By 
Po (Edison, NJ United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Girl in Hyacinth Blue (Paperback)
There is so much more to life than mere existence and the everyday requirements of survival if only you strive for it. That's what I feel after reading this little gem. There is beautiful art; there is the joy and love of those around you; and there are amazingly beautiful lovely books like this one. Everything is right about this wonderful novel. Most good books tell a story that doesn't leave your mind right away. This book has a handful of them! Every chapter is a complete world of real characters. Each one could be a novel to itself. But Vreeland has woven them together into a beautiful storyline and has an amazing ability to fill every word, every sentence with meaning and vision.
I commute to work, and I read books on the train. I finished this book last night, and today I did not bring a book with me. Instead I stood with my eyes closed and thought about this book the whole way, and the opening sentence of this review is what it led me to. Now if that is not a sure-fire way to tell you that this book is special and lovely and memorable, I don't know what is.
Buy it. A true gem.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mesmerizing story. Very imaginative., December 27, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Girl in Hyacinth Blue (Hardcover)
I bought this book as a Christmas present for my daughter and ended up stealing it myself. It is a small book in a beautiful package, yet the content is large, complex and serious. I learned about history, art, and writing as I read. I travelled in time as I followed the painting back to its origins. This was a perfect book to escape into, and a lovely book to own.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Episodic novel tracing a painting's ownership., January 14, 2001
This review is from: Girl in Hyacinth Blue (Paperback)
I recently reviewed "Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Tracy Chevalier. That book was a wonderfully realized account of what may have transpired in the life of the great Dutch artist, Jan Vermeer, at the time that he painted the lovely work named in the title. Susan Vreeland's "Girl in Hyacincth Blue," is a painting that also may be a Vermeer (we don't know for sure until the end). She traces the history of the painting's owners starting in the 20th century and going back to 17th century Amsterdam. The owners of the painting include, among others, a repressed professor whose father obtained the work under questionable circumstances, a married man who looks at the painting and remembers his first love with longing, and a poor woman who loves the aesthetic qualities of the painting but needs to sell it to support her family. Vreeland explores the themes of how a beautiful work of art has different meaning for different people and how great art has a timeless quality that can survive for centuries. She also explores the price that an artist must pay in order to fully realize his vision on canvas. One problem with this novel is that Vreeland's vignettes are not equally involving. For example, one chapter that deals with a marriage in dissolution is less interesting than the others. In addition, as soon as the reader gets involved with one set of characters, the chapter ends and the characters disappear. This constant change of cast makes the novel a bit choppy. On the plus side, Vreeland beautifully brings to life the relationship between humanity and great works of art. She also skillfully depicts aspects of the culture and landscape of the Netherlands over the past four centuries. One chapter that focuses on the very difficult struggle of Dutch farmers to keep the sea at bay is particularly vivid. Vreeland's "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" is, overall, an uneven but often fascinating look at the creative process and the meaning that art brings to our lives.
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Girl in Hyacinth Blue
Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland (Hardcover - September 1, 1999)
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