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The Last Summer of the World: A Novel Hardcover – June 17, 2007
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. First-time novelist Mitchell pulls off the dazzling trick of allowing readers to see through the eyes of art-photography pioneer Edward Steichen in her excellent reconsideration of his life and art. This would be merely impressive if the book confined itself to the stormy end of Steichen's first marriage, a subtheme that gets its due and packs a psychological punch. Instead, Mitchell follows Steichen through his airborne reconnaissance work during WWI, providing a devastating portrait of the insanity of war in general and the Great War in particular. Throughout, individual photographs are described in detail, along with surprisingly rich narratives—some reconstructed, some imagined—filling in the stories behind the pictures. Most powerful are the descriptions of what Steichen saw from the air, such as his view of Americans chasing a group of Germans and killing them all, including one who tried to escape. The book offers up glimpses of Paris and the French countryside, including memorable scenes of Steichen's visit to his good friend and mentor, sculptor August Rodin, but in the end, this commanding novel is about the images one can never quite burn from memory.
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*Starred Review* Photographer Edward Steichen, cosmopolitan and controversial, is an excellent subject for historical fiction. But debut novelist Mitchell chose not to reimagine Steichen's glamorous career as a portrait and fashion photographer. Rather, she zeroes in on Steichen's life-altering service during World War I. Responsible for aerial reconnaissance, Steichen and his men are in the line of fire as they fly over German troops, and Mitchell vividly imagines the terror of these historic dogfights. Her Steichen is also fighting a private ground war with his wife, Clara, as she seeks revenge for Steichen's alleged affair with her former best friend. Mitchell uses Steichen's moody art photographs as stepping-stones between scenes of military suspense and tragedy and the heartbreak of a disastrous marriage. Forced to sacrifice her musical career to fulfill her duties as mother and wife to an artist more ruthless in his devotion to his work than she, Clara is a profoundly poignant figure. And Steichen is no villain. Enriching her intensely psychological tale with cameos of Auguste Rodin and others. Mitchell evokes the spell of creativity and the pain of rupture when following one's vision severely complicates relationships. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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"At St. Omer, he'd learned that when a road was used, it wore away. The boots of marching infantry, the wheels of the field guns and supply wagons, the horses' hooves - all these stripped away the dry surface, revealing rock and soil beneath. Compare two prints of the front taken on different days. If the road had turned in the second from pale gray to near black, an army had moved along it." p.44
"But when he told her about it, Clara stopped playing and looked at him with an expression of disbelief. Then she put her head down on the keys of the piano, so that a chromatic mass of notes rose out of the instrument, and engulfed her, filling the room with dissonance." p. 195
A compelling meditation on the arc of one artist's life...