From Publishers Weekly
As intricate-if not as fluent-as one of its subject's own vivid depictions of 16th-century life in the Spanish-dominated Low Countries, Rucker's fictionalized life of Bruegel draws its readers into a teeming world of politics, art, love, sin and loss. Rucker has marshaled years of research into 16 chapters, each built around one of Bruegel's famous paintings and highlighting a pivotal experience in the artist's life. Bruegel left his boyhood village to be apprenticed to Master Coecke of Antwerp, and once a master himself, traveled to Italy to be smitten by Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Once back in Belgium, he began to receive commissions for his paintings, using audacious perspectives and even more risky interpretations of religious themes. Rucker's own boisterously crowded canvas includes characters like homosexual cartographer Ortelius, the scheming bishop and later cardinal Granvelle, the charismatic half-American Indian Williblad Cheroo, and young Mayken, Bruegel's adored wife and canny business manager. Though Rucker's literal-minded narration repeatedly leads him to tell rather than show ("Bruegel was beginning to feel the stirrings of romantic love"; "For her part, Mayken acted quite unromantic"), he skillfully interlaces his account of Bruegel's various artistic and literary influences with insights into the genesis of some of his most renowned works. This is clearly a labor of love and, though sometimes less than graceful, it grapples handily with Bruegel's genius-his ability to wittily and gracefully recreate all human activity, from the sublime to the scatological. 16 b&w reproductions.
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*Starred Review* What possesses a popular science fiction writer to write a historical novel about a sixteenth-century Flemish painter enamored of peasant ways? Unbridled fascination with the depiction of worlds real and imagined. Rucker's keen insights into Peter Bruegel's spellbinding and politically subversive work underpin this animated, suspenseful, and affecting tale, a step up from Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring
(2000). Biographical information about Bruegel is scant, but Rucker's sense that the painter was lively, compassionate, courageous, and determined feels right, and the characters Rucker invents to flesh out Bruegel's violent and precarious universe are equally compelling, especially the cultured mapmaker Abraham Ortelius, who is so careful to conceal his homosexuality; the sexy and volatile half-Native American, Williblad Cheroo; and Bruegel's smart, saucy wife. Just as Bruegel's paintings are a great joy to behold even as they induce the viewer to face the grimmer aspects of life, Rucker's vivid imagining of Bruegel's trials and triumphs is set against a cutting indictment of the horrors of the Spanish occupation and Inquisition. Bruegel's great gift was his perception of the sacred in the earthy, and Rucker follows suit in this vital portrait of a sweet-natured disciple of life's fecund beauty in a time of cold-blooded tyranny. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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