Historical fiction, actually a book of short stories that follow a painting from modern times back to the painter and the subject of the painting. It's many different stories and varied lives woven into one tale. I like stories like this that follow an object through history, and Vreeland did this one very well, able to narrate a story from the perspective of a wide variety of characters, from a modern-day math professor in the USA to a French Lady in the time of Louis XIV, to a Dutch farm wife. I enjoyed it very much and will be looking for more from this author
This is not a long read, and the reverse chronology vignettes about the fictitious painting by Vermeer, "Girl in Hyacinth Blue" were very engrossing and at times surprising. I loved Vreeland's lush descriptions of Netherlands landscapes and scenery - you almost felt as if you were right there! This book wasn't just narratives of nature's beauty -- Vreeland also described poverty and the finality of life very well, too. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and some of the imagery Vreeland created will stay with me.
I just finished this book last night and I am not quite sure how I feel about it. The story was definately interesting how the painting touched so many peoples lives in such different ways. The book was somewhat depressing in a way though. There was a somber overcast in each of the short stories that seemed like a big dark cloud sitting over me as I read.
Amazing prose. The author tells the story in vignettes, but they all flow together as one novel, one story. The richness of the words is fathomless. The characterization is excellently conveyed by lack of description, an astonishing success there. This book is for any serious reader of excellent literature.
This was a lovely set of stories revolving around a painting. It begins in modern day with a story telling how the present owner's father obtained the painting. Then each successive story takes the painting back another owner. Four of the stories were published separately. Then when Susan Vreeland combined them into this book she added in the linking stories. I enjoyed the writing style, the details of everyday life, and the different perspective that the paint drew from each character.
I loved this book. It keeps you wanting to know what's next as you continually peer through the previous window in time. I found myself wanting each part of the story expand into it's own book. I could have kept reading and reading had the author continued on. This book is full of rich details making you want to learn more about every painting you've ever wondered about.
beja reviewed Girl in Hyacinth Blue : unabridged (audiocassette) on
A good book but really short stories about the owners of the painting. This is the third book of short stories I have read in a row...and I do not enjoy short stories. However of the three this is
the only one I have finished. It does keep your interest
A beautiful read. Follows the owners of a (fictional) Vermeer painting back to the artist. Each owners' story is told in a different voice. This is one book that I'll keep on my bookshelf and read again.
I loved this book. It was quick read but it left me reflective for days afterwards. Vreeland has a real gift for bringing works of great art to life for the reader, and lending them a human quality and personal history. Really one of the best books I've read in a long time.
This was a quick enjoyable read. Told in vignettes, the story traces the life and travels of a painting...a lost Vermeer. This story slightly reminded me of "Girl With a Pearl Earring", by Tracey Chevalier, but it is not really the exact same story. This is a nice book to read on a weekend. I found my copy left behind in the home we have recently moved in. Most of the books that I found that the previous owner of my home had left for us were not the quality or type of literature that I usually choose to read, but this was a nice find! If you like art or art history, I think you will enjoy this book.
An excellent book set in the time of Vermeer from the viewpoint of a modern art professor. The book begins with a discussion between the professor and a student about the painting in his home. It goes on to explain how the painting came into being. Fascinating. . .
I think I will reread this book at some point because I found myself distracted by outside influences at times and feel I've missed some of the more subtle points. Good read - traces a painting's history/owners from most current to origin - and the impact this piece of artwork had on those individuals.
I found some of these short, inter-connected stories more effective than others. As a whole, I was left a bit wanting because each snippet was so very short and the characters abruptly change as the author moves from one owner of a painting to the next.
LINDA S. reviewed Girl in Hyacinth Blue : unabridged (audiocassette) on
Fascinating work of historical fiction. The audiobook format enhances the book's structure as a series of different stories linked to a single object, with each of the different narrators well suited to the characters they portray. I found each story completely engrossing, and several times sat in my garage to finish a chapter.
This unabridged audiobook on CDs contains 8 interlinked stories tied together by a painting of the books title. The painting, GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE, was believed to be painted by Johannes Vermeer - the paintings papers lost over time.
The first story takes place in recent days and each succeeding story traces the path of this painting back through time. So there are a series of brief chapter-sized vignettes which are narrated by 8 different narrators. All of the narrators do an EXCELLENT job in capturing the emotions and feelings of the characters they present. I listened to the stories from an easy chair in my house. I dont know if I would have appreciated the stories as much if I were listening in my car. This may be due to the shortness of each vignette. As a rule I am not a fan of short stories but this presentation was different.
It was said that Vermeer painted very little in his late years and he was only 43 years old when he died. It is believed that his death was due to financial pressures. His wife was left to raise their 11 children. He was born in 1632 in Delft, a town of about 25,000 people best known for its blue and white glazed earthen ware, During his life his fame did not spread far outside of Delft. While he was alive, he barely could make ends meet. He painted only one or two paintings a years, and so fewer than 36 of his paintingsare known to exist, one of them: The Girl with a Pearl Earring.
If you like listening to audiobooks, you should give this one a try. It nicely done. (You can read other reviews of the story to see how other people liked the book; the reviews are under the paperback version of this title.)
Marci S. (MarciNYC) reviewed Girl in Hyacinth Blue : unabridged (audiocassette) on
This book tells the story of a 'stolen' Vermeer painting by each of it's 'owners' in reverse chronological time. I really liked this book - especially to see how the painting changed hands throughout the centuries. The modern owner's story lead me to think about just how many other works by Masters might be 'owned' and hidden away in private houses.
Beautifully written. A series of interlocking short stories that trace the history of a (fictional) painting masterpiece back through the centuries, and the emotions and actions it evoked in the people through whose hands it passed.
I liked the format of this book a lot. It's a series of vignettes all revolving around the owners of the same painting. Some stories deal with how the owner got the painting, some show how it was lost, and some show both. It starts in present time, then slowly works it way backwards and shows quick glimpses of very different lives. Even though each story is short, you get a sense of the needs and flaws in the characters and Vreeland manages to pack a lot of information into a few short pages. I was impressed with the format and use of time-line and am looking forward to reading more of her work.
I really enjoyed this book. It's a set of short stories that starts at present day and traces the the owners of this painting back to its source. It was easy to read, but not superficial. A quick read, and very enjoyable.
This luminous story begins in the present day, when a professor invites a colleague to his home to see a painting that he has kept secret for decades. The professor swears it is a Vermeerbut why has he hidden this important work for so long? The reasons unfold in a series of events that trace the ownership of the painting back to World War II and Amsterdam, and still further back to the moment of the work's inspiration. As the painting moves through each owner's hands, what was long hidden quietly surfaces, illuminating poignant moments in multiple lives. Vreeland's characters remind us, through their love of this mysterious painting, how beauty transforms and why we reach for it, what lasts and what in our lives is singular and unforgettable.
"Intelligent, searching, and unusual... . Like the painting it describes so well, [the novel] has a way of lingering in the reader's mind." The New York Times Book Review
"A little gem of a novel ... [a] beautifully written exploration of the power of art." Parade
"Stunning ... Haunting" San Francisco Chronicle
Named a Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly, the Christian Science Monitor, and the San Francisco Chronicle
Nominated for the Book Sense Book of the Year
This novel traces the ownership of a fictional Vermeer painting from present day back to its origins. The author does a good job of showing how the artwork brings meaning to each person who possesses it.
A professor invites a colleague from the art department to his home to see a painting he has kept secret for decades. The professor swears that it is a Vermeer- why has he hidden this important work for so long? The reasons unfold in a series of stories that trace ownership of the painting back to World War II and Amsterdam, and still further back to the moment of the work's inspiration. As the painting moves through each owner's hands, what was long hidden quietly surfaces, illuminating poignant moments in human lives. Vreeland's characters remind us, through their love of the mysterious painting, how beauty transforms and why we reach for it, what lasts, and what in our lives is unforgettable.
There are only 35 known Vermeers extant in the world today. In Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreeland posits the existence of a 36th. The story begins at a private boys' academy in Pennsylvania where, in the wake of a faculty member's unexpected death, math teacher Cornelius Engelbrecht makes a surprising revelation to one of his colleagues. He has, he claims, an authentic Vermeer painting, "a most extraordinary painting in which a young girl wearing a short blue smock over a rust-colored skirt sat in profile at a table by an open window." His colleague, an art teacher, is skeptical and though the technique and subject matter are persuasively Vermeer-like, Engelbrecht can offer no hard evidence--no appraisal, no papers--to support his claim. He says only that his father, "who always had a quick eye for fine art, picked it up, let us say, at an advantageous moment." Eventually it is revealed that Engelbrecht's father was a Nazi in charge of rounding up Dutch Jews for deportation and that the picture was looted from one doomed family's home:
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
From Publishers Weekly
As Keats describes the scenes and lives frozen in a moment of time on his Grecian urn, so Vreeland layers moments in the lives of eight people profoundly moved and changed by a Vermeer painting a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Vreeland opens with a man who suffers through his adoration of the painting because he inherited it from his Nazi father, who stole it from a deported Jewish family. She traces the work's provenance through the centuries: the farmer's wife, the Bohemian student, the loving husband with a secret and, finally, the Girl herself Vermeer's eldest daughter, who felt her "self" obliterated by the self immortalized in paint, but accepted that this was the nature of art. Descriptions of the painting by people in different countries in various historical periods are particularly beautiful. Each section is read by a different narrator, some better than others. Several add dimension to the story and writing, while others are so intent on portraying the book's ethereal qualities they make the listener conscious of the reader instead of the language. Still, this is a delightful production.