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Pictures at an Exhibition Paperback – February 9, 2010
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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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I thought the Author showed some experience in the art world of that time and place, as well as the life surrounding that world. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Naftali Camiel
Have interest in this topic but the story is choppy and confusing . The transitions are poor so that reader is list at timesPublished 21 months ago by nkg
A fascinating story especially after seeing Monuments MenPublished on July 24, 2014 by Barbara K. Abend
“A thriller, a travelogue, and a mystery,” said the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about this 2009 novel, the story of Max Berenzon, son of a successful Parisian art dealer who, in the... Read morePublished on July 22, 2014 by Victoria Weisfeld
It took awhile to warm to the characters in this story but something drew me in and I was rewarded in the end with an insightful, well written historical fiction.Published on April 14, 2014 by Edwards
With the years before and immediately after WE II as time frame, this is a fictionalized account of the horrific loss of the world's great art masterpieces. Read morePublished on March 19, 2014 by US Writer
I liked this book very much at the beginning and parts of it were interesting, but I wearied of it.Published on March 10, 2014 by Emily P. Williams
This book was difficult for me to read. Nazi Paris is always hard to grasp, but the relationships in this book are extremely hard to comprehend. Read morePublished on August 2, 2013 by jscreative