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Pictures at an Exhibition (Vintage) Paperback – February 9, 2010


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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage
  • Paperback: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 Reprint edition (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307386309
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307386304
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #786,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Julia Glass Reviews Pictures at an Exhibition

Julia Glass is the author of Three Junes, which won the National Book Award in 2002, The Whole World Over, and I See You Everywhere, published in 2008. Learn more about Julia Glass in the Julia Glass Store, and read her guest review of Sara Houghteling's Pictures at an Exhibition:

I read a lot of debut fiction, in part because editors often seek my endorsement for these books, but also because one of my greatest pleasures as a reader is the discovery of a fresh voice. Sarah Houghteling’s voice is fresh indeed, yet it is also remarkably mature. Pictures at an Exhibition is at once an authoritative historical novel, a family saga, a labyrinthine love story, and a sumptuous meditation on the purpose and value of material beauty when war threatens the very fiber of civilization.

In constructing her true-to-life story about Jewish art collectors before and after World War II, Houghteling made a clever and sophisticated choice. Through the eyes of her narrator, Max Berenzon--an impetuous young man who yearns to fill the shoes of his elegant father, not just an art dealer but a patron to the likes of Picasso and Matisse--she begins by showing us high-society Paris of 1939, a place of such prosperity and worldliness that those who occupy it can hardly believe it will be vulnerable to the palpable winds of political change. Yet as we readers know from our 21st-century perch, this world will soon and swiftly fall apart. (Those who savor irony will think of our own society a year ago now.) And then, in a bold fictional move, Houghteling bypasses the events of the war itself, vaulting us forward to the time of reckoning: for Max, for his father, and for the shell-shocked survivors of a divided France--among them Rose, a talented art connoisseur who attracts yet mystifies Max. In order to help safeguard her country’s artistic legacy, did she collaborate with the Nazis?

Max’s twin obsessions with repossessing his father’s plundered art collection and understanding this elusive woman provide the momentum for a story that is suspenseful, moving, illuminating, and ultimately satisfying. It solves a captivating mystery while showing us yet again how our lives, regardless of our private fortunes, will bend to the forces of history.--Julia Glass

(Photo © Peter Ross)

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

A young French-Jewish man obsesses about taking over his fathers fine art dealership before WWII, and tries to locate its lost canvases in the wars aftermath in Houghtelings ambitious and satisfying debut novel. Halfhearted medical student Max Berenzon tries to impress upon his father, Daniel, that he should inherit the business, and spends the rest of his energy wooing Rose, the gallery assistant. But the war soon makes talk of the future a moot point, and the Berenzons survive the war in a cellar in the south of France. When father and son return to Paris, their gallery is empty, looted by the Nazis. In dirty postwar Paris, Max chases both the missing art and Rose, and though both his targets remain elusive and the gaping hole left by the roundup of French Jews is impossible to close, Max does shed light on his own familys secret tragedy. Houghteling dazzlingly recreates the horrors of war, and its the small, smart details—a painting that was a sentimental family treasure turning up years later in an ordinary gallery; an offhanded anti-Semitic remark in a cafe—that make one uncommon familys suffering all the more powerful. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

I found the storyline interesting, but the book does not grip you.
Clare Chu
Very well researched and very well written, I recommend this book to those who love art as well as those who are fascinated by history.
Angela Markwalter
Bravo to the author-- Sara Houghteling has done a magnificent job in putting the reader into the story through young Max's eyes.
Valerie J. Wood

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Susan Tunis TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Pictures at an Exhibition is the story of the Berenzon family, as told through the eyes of son Max. Max's father Daniel is one of the premiere art dealers in Paris. He sells the works of their next-door neighbor, Pablo Picasso, and has an exclusive contract with Henri Matisse. Works by Sisley, Degas, Lautrec, Manet, and too many others to name pass through the Berenzon Gallery. They are a wealthy and respected family. And while they're not religious in the least, like many of the art dealers of the time, they are Jewish.

Max was raised surrounded by great works of art. Every evening, his father would drill him on memorizing each work from exhibitions of the past. Max has always assumed that he would one day inherit the gallery. However, when Max is a teenager, Daniel informs him that he can't "with good conscience" pass the gallery down to him. Daniel doesn't believe Max has the right abilities and temperament to fill the role. It would be an understatement to say that Max has some "daddy issues."

So, as the story gets going in 1939, nineteen-year-old Max is studying to be a doctor. His father has just taken on the latest in a series of apprentices. Max typically resents these interlopers, but Rose Clément is different. She is beautiful, independent, awe-inspiring. It is love at first sight. It's not long before a relationship of sorts begins between Max and Rose. But no matter how many ways Max shows his love for her, Rose clings to her independence. Their romance, the business of the gallery, and everything else are put on hold with the outbreak of the war.

Rose is working furiously with the staff at the Louvre to safeguard the artworks. Daniel puts 250 of his most valuable paintings in the vault at the Chase Bank.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful By the Peripatetic Gardener on February 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Sara Houghteling successfully recreates the Paris art world of World War II in "Pictures at an Exhibition." As seen through the eyes and perceptions of Max Berenzon, the son of a successful gallery owner, it is a grim, gray world. The story seems to work on two levels: the Berenzon family, their lack of emotional communication, their family secrets, and the role of art in their lives - and then the larger picture - Paris under the Occupation and the fate of its Jews. It is the second aspect that is the most compelling.

Max's personal story is so understated, so emotionless, that it was difficult for this reader to be too involved. Briefly, Max is a son unsure of his father's love; he is pursuing a medical degree when he'd rather work in his father's gallery; he is in love with his father's assistant and possible mistress Rose; he is unfocused and seems to careen blindly through life. Then, Paris is occupied by the Germans and the Jewish Berenzons go into hiding. Those war years aren't the focus of the story, so it picks up again when the Berenzon pere and fil return to find the gallery an empty shell and their paintings gone. Max's search for the missing works gives the reader a view of just how difficult it was for those whose possessions had been `liberated' to reclaim them. But it is the depiction of postwar Paris that is more compelling.

Far more interesting than Max's story is the recounting of the art works themselves: the lengths the French went to protect these valuable possessions and the greed that flouishes even today as the descendants of the rightful owners are unable to claim their possessions. The recounting of the secret transport of 'The Wreck of the Medusa' and the 'Victory of Samothrace' were, for me, the highpoints of the novel.

The strong points of `Pictures at an Exhibition' are the author's prose style and the fascinating story of the `missing' art works. However, the human side of the story is far less riveting.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By L. Berk VINE VOICE on February 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was incredibly, and pleasantly, surprised at how well-crafted a novel 'Pictures at an Exhibition' was. The novel takes place on the eve of World War II, in Paris, just as the skies are beginning to darken. Houghteling's writing is dreamy and seems grounded in reality by the essence of its writing, and not the essence of its characters. The protagonist, Max, narrates the events of the story, but is never quite involved in the larger picture: he avoids the draft due to flat feet, and while marginalized by his art-dealing father, stills manages to come into his own. However, the events of his own life begin to mirror the events of Paris, though on a much smaller scale. My favorite paragraph of the novel occurs when Max recounts the dissolution of his romance with Rose, an apprentice at the art gallery: "A sweater I had left in her room was returned, neatly folded outside my door, along with my spare bicycle lock. It stunned me that these stupid, mute objects outlasted love. No square of yellow illuminated the courtyard. The bathwater scalded, I cracked my Cole Porter record in two, and France declared war" (p64).

My first instinct, and perhaps painfully grandiose in scope, was to see Max as a sort-of Hans Castorp character: a regular individual, tinged with affluence and pervasive mediocrity (which, one may recall, Mann attributes Castorp's mediocrity to underlying greatness in 'The Magic Mountain'). Max becomes a player - intimately known to the reader - in a scenario and situation that dwarfs his existence. Though he never literally heeds the 'call to arms' as Castorp did, he instead undergoes as much a journey of purpose and exploration through the novel. Max's humanity is effervescent and clear, he is an idealistic Romantic but also occasionally indecisive.
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