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The Art Student's War Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Nov 3 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (Nov. 3 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307271110
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307271112
  • Product Dimensions: 3.3 x 16.9 x 23.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 862 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,427,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 19 reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Imagining Detroit in the 40s and 50s Feb. 27 2010
By Richard A. Jenkins - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Leithauser recreates a period that takes Detroit from WWII into the mid-1950s. The story revolves around a girl and her family as she enters adult hood and begins a family. The story includes many elements that often aren't associated with such an "innocent" era, such as race relations, mental illness, infidelity, premarital sex, unplanned pregnancy, and homosexuality. Anyone who has tried to learn about their family history will recognize that all these things were part of that era (not to mention eras long before). The story has a sudden break near the middle and although Leithauser successfully re-establishes the momentum of the book, the abrupt transition seems un-necessary. The book mentions real places, often without explanation. People who have been to Detroit or lived nearby will know Hudson's, Grinnell's, and Sanders, but others won't. Ditto the neighborhoods and thoroughfares, although oddly Leihauser chooses fictional streets for Bianca's homes. Beyond these quibbles, the story is one that follows a young woman as her world broadens simply by taking the streetcar to art school, meeting people who were nothing like those who had populated her world on the East Side of Detroit. WWII is both near and far, but became most real to Bianca when she began sketching portraits of soldiers who were convalescing at hospital that had been commandeered by the Army. Art school brought her a relationship with Ronny, a child of privilege while her drawing brings her into an equally unusual relationship with a doomed, intellectual young man.

The relationship with Ronny opens Bianca's world both in terms of art and the opportunities that come with a wealthy family. Family is a key part of the book. Bianca's family is at the center of the book, but other families take on importance, particularly Ronny's. Bianca's Uncle Dennis emerges as the true head of her family. He quietly prods and pulls strings and makes things happen for her parents and siblings. He also manages to provide a solution when Bianca's mother imagines that her husband is really in love with Dennis' wife (her sister). Bianca's mother lives in a world where she is driven to eccentricities like hording candy and stealing small things form neighborhood stores. She was a seemingly inconsolable, distracted person who regularly burnt dinner, and seemed peeved by problems that she wouldn't discuss. Bianca's father was more avuncular, but also troubled with sharing his family with such a puzzling, unhappy woman. Unlike her serious sister Edith and her war playing brother, Bianca seems more open to people an experience, as well as less sure of the direction for her life. Ultimately, she marries well, although into an unhappy family, and begins to raise children whose equanimity is amazing to her. Leithauser excels, particularly in the beginning, at giving us the small details of daily life that build the story--Bianca's brother playing war, the smells and tastes on bland 1940s food, and the dustiness of streetcars in the pre-airconditioning era. Unlike many short story writers, Leithauser doesn't end the story with "O Henry" twists or sudden, melodramatic exits. The story is drawn together but in a natural way, but one that wasn't that fully resolved. Instead, we see Bianca and her family moving on to the next steps of their lives.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
An Elegy For Detroit...And More June 14 2010
By Nicholas Puner - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I hadn't read any of Brad Leithauser's fiction before The Art Student's War. I was interested in this book because of family connections to Detroit at a time it was already past its glory days. The New York Times review was very positive.

I cannot agree. This is a cumbersome, highly repetitious novel that, for me, never achieves a life of its own. The characters, like those in the representational painting that is so frequently mentioned, seem to embody roles rather than live lives. All of them seem one-dimensional, stick figures. Whatever it is that Leithauser has to say, he says it at prodigious length. It is as if, having completed his work of the previous day, he has forgotten what he did. The book reminded me of the old New York Times in which every article would, seemingly, begin at the creation of the world before getting to the event at hand.

It is neither the ripping good yarn of a master story teller nor a work of surpassing conception and execution by a masterly writer. Rather it seemed to me to be a vast connect-the-dots exercise that would have benefited from critical and exacting editing.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Three-fifths excellent; forget the rest Feb. 5 2010
By J. Rosenberg - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed the first 273 pages of this book very much. Bianca had an artist's view of the world which was different and fascinating. Her family life and the lives of the other characters were well described and different, too. Her art school days, boyfriends and volunteer work drawing soldiers' portraits are lively and interesting to read about.

Then on page 275, everything changed. Suddenly the narrator is telling us that Bea is ill, she has a raging fever. Then, instead of being in Bea's point of view, we are with her Uncle Dennis as he drives frantically from Cleveland to Detroit to serve as Bea's doctor. This chapter is a mess.

Next, on page 275, we are back with Bea. Nine years have past. She is married to Grant (we never find out how they came to be married, despite all the detail in this book about every other little thing) and she has twin six-year-old boys. It's downhill from here. Much of what happened in the first 274 pages is rehashed. Everything has become mundane, a nineteen-fifties housewife's tale. Bea is no longer mysterious. She wears pedal pushers and goes to the grocery store.

Sheesh! I am soooo disappointed. I am on page 447, with a little help from skimming, and I am bored to death. No suspense -- during that strange middle chapter we were informed of all kinds of things that were to happen in Bea's life. No artsy descriptions or unusual characters. Everyone is ordinary and every event predictable.

Ich. I feel cheated.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Art Student's War Feb. 1 2013
By Nola Figen - Published on
Verified Purchase
My introduction to Leithauser's prose was greatly disappointing. There was some just plain bad writing in there. The plot was interesting.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Will this book ever end? Dec 30 2011
By Robin Leaette - Published on
My favorite fiction books revolve around WW2, so I was very excited to read this. I'm not a full-time reader like some of you, I only read at night just a chapter or two. This book will just not end. There are some books out there that I didn't want to end and was sad when they did, but not this book. I'm only about 60% into it and I'm going to give up.

I'm a college educated person. Well read. Decent vocabulary. Etc, etc etc. The author uses words that no one uses! You need a dictionary just to read this book.

The story doesn't have much "meat" either. The title is very wrong for this book. Only 1/2 of the book is set during WW2 and she doesn't spend much time doing her "art". I wish there was more drama and story.

The whole analyzing of Henry was sooooo repetitive! I had to skim most of the chapters about him because she just went on and on and on and on about how she was analyzing him.

The absolute worst was the chapter after she went into the hospital. What in God's name was that?

In closing, I usually give my books to friends but this will be going to the thrift store.