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Girl in Hyacinth Blue Paperback – October 1, 2000
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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
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.