23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
"switterbug" Betsey Van Horn
- Published on Amazon.com
Andrew Winer has written a potboiler that is also literary. Writing about such a serious subject as the Holocaust sometimes constricts a novelist into a more conventional form of storytelling/historical fiction. But as we have seen with such books as Frederick Reiken's Day for Night and Nicole Krauss's postmodern Great House, as well as Death as a narrator in Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, the only unwritten rules are to grip the reader in a credible story and to edify through words. Winer has done both, and he puts his unique stamp on it with his fluid, page-turning, thriller style blended with his out-of-the-box imagination and mellifluous prose. Like Plath did so craftily with The Bell Jar, Winer will reach a wider audience by his hewing of the elevated with the pedestrian. Saul Bellow meets Stephen King. I applaud his ambitious style, which he succeeded with on many levels.
"...the dead take with them not only what we love in them but also what they love in us..."
Two stories parallel and merge, reaching forward in one, backward in the other, fusing in a transmigration of redemption. One starts in 1928 Vienna, a time when the Jews, once so integral to the art and intellectual community, are being persecuted. Some Jews, such as the novel's Pick family, have converted to Catholicism in order to assimilate (which I say with irony, as assimilation in this case was more like betrayal to one's faith) and garner financial success without oppression. Young Josef Pick, the son of converts, visits his Jewish grandfather Pommeranz in the very poor Jewish district and begins his career as a ketubah artist, or "marriage artist."
The second storyline is the one that opens the novel in modern times. A highly acclaimed native American (Blackfoot) artist, Benjamin Wind, has plunged to his death with the wife of an esteemed art critic, Daniel Lichtmann, whose glorious accolades to Wind made the sculptor famous. Aleksandra Lichtmann, a beautiful, seductive survivor of Russian anti-semitism, was a woman of rare charm and dauntless courage, a woman who spoke her mind resolutely and with artless candor. Her husband, Daniel, is heartbroken and suffused with guilt for falling into an emotional detachment with her (for reasons I won't go into--readers will want to see the details revealed on their own). This is further complicated by the fact that their marriage is a second marriage for both of them.
In Jewish tradition, a ketubah is a document, one that is fundamental to the traditional Jewish marriage and is a form of Jewish ceremonial art. It outlines the responsibilities of the groom to the bride and is written in Aramaic, the vernacular of Talmudic times. (I strongly recommend that readers google ketubah images in order to see the stunning, detailed artwork involved.) The ketubah is also fundamental to the themes and storylines of this novel.
Josef Pick, at age ten, becomes immediately arrested by the poignancy and beauty of ketubot art and, with a mythical and mystical spirit, is imbued with an aesthetic grace that permeates him and allows him to create a ketubah, largely influenced by his childhood desire for his feuding parents to fall back in love. He eclipses his grandfather's talent and is soon mentored by him. Pommeranz, who earns few schillings blessing fowl and meat, becomes a Jewish star with his grandson. The storyline with Josef continues into adulthood, highlighting his relationship with his lifelong friend, Max Weiner, and Josef's wife, Hannah, a complex and triangulating trio of passion and suffering. This story takes us into the terror of the Holocaust.
Daniel is determined to uncover the seeds of this tragedy. Were Aleksandra and Benjamin having an affair? Were they unhappy, filled with guilt, or did someone push them? The police haven't found any clues to a crime, and Daniel commences to investigate on his own. This leads him into his own crimes of the heart as well as important details of his wife's history and the provenance of Benjamin's ethnic roots. Wind's artwork is explored with exquisite sympathy and philosophical mien and woven into a deep abyss of pain, symmetry, and expression. This storyline also leads back into the marrow of the Holocaust, which gives the novel its quintessence. Two artists from two generations bifurcate and meld. The reader is pulled into an intricate labyrinth of lies and love, horror and shame, betrayal and faithfulness.
Winer's prose is masterful, with a restrained floridity that anoints the story with poetic lyricism. This is the second review I have written that compels me to allude to Flaubert's mot juste, the ability to find the exact right word or expression. His metaphors and imagery are scintillating and prolific, and I will dare to say orgasmic.
"She laughed at him with an unbearable harshness. The laughter spread across her features like a fast-moving storm front, until it was all darkness."
In describing a created ketubah:
"...first as blooming yellow florets in a tussock of dandelions and then as gossamer ball angels raised by the wind to the impure geometry of the living...the sky is a fabric of seraphic, thickly flowered souls whispering advice at its edges."
There are flaws. Winer tends to telegraph events, but he is one of the few authors I know who can make exposition emotional, stirring. Some plot turns are too quick and convenient, preventing the reader from forming his or her own conclusions, or from finding the spaces between the words. When Winer is describing art, it is exalting, and it moves the reader to interpret and have a go at personal translation within his own. But with the plot, he intermittently spells out too much information, and truncates some elements of the story. And some components (which feed the potboiler aspect) are a bit contrived and overwrought, and I had to wince, especially the emergence of another, later romance in the book that felt inorganic.
In a lesser author, these blemishes would have decreased my overall satisfaction. But, despite this criticism, there is something about the whole here transcending the sum of its parts, (and I am not condescending in this observation) and the parts interlocking in a resonant and finally delicate and ecstatic way that moved me to accept the warts and come away with my heart on fire and my senses roused to tears. This is a highly engaging, memorable, exuberant, and yes, even boisterous and entertaining Holocaust and modern tragedy tale.
This review is based on a complementary advanced reading copy I received from the publisher.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The narrative of Andrew Winer's The Marriage Artist is akin to two train tracks heading toward each other and meeting at a final destination. Imagine watching these trains from the sky, see them converge, but sit back and enjoy the view. Look at the landscape, watch the passing trees, and eavesdrop on fellow travelers' conversations and stories which only make sense once both trains have pulled into the station.
Track one is the story of art critic Daniel Lichtmann, whose wife Aleksandra plunged to her death alongside Benjamin Wind, one of Daniel's favorite artists. Whether his wife and the artist were lovers is unknown. What she was doing on the roof of his building, and whether the two jumped to their deaths by choice or force, also remains a mystery. Daniel searches for answers and receives unexpected information in the form of an elderly wheelchair-bound man who attends both funerals.
Track two starts in 1928 Vienna when young Josef Pick discovers his artistic talent and trains with his grandfather to paint Jewish marriage contracts called ketubah. This track follows young Josef through his teenage and early adult years, during the tumultuous start of World War II and the purging of Jewish citizens from Vienna, until it meets with Daniel Lichtmann's story in the present day.
At times both sweeping and engaging, here is an author who knows his tools and how to use them. Winer's prose ranges from lilting and poetic to stream-of-consciousness. Emotional and poignant, The Marriage Artist is a vast and tremendous dramatic novel of history and heartache. Of the bonds that bring people together and the devices that tear us apart.
Not knowing where the plot is taking us, the reader has no choice but to read onward, trusting in the author to reveal his secrets. And reveal he does. Winer selectively shares bits of historical ingredients to define the puzzle of present day, piecing each corner edge to its partner. Only when the whole puzzle is complete can we truly see and appreciate the splendor of the picture. Beautifully wrought and imagined, The Marriage Artist is remarkably unlike anything I've read in quite some time.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The Marriage Artist opens with two lifeless bodies on the New York summer pavement, a woman and a man. They appear to have fallen. Was it a suicide pact? Was one person pushed? Was there a struggle and both fell? Or was it something else entirely? The woman was Aleksandra Lichtmann, the wife of art critic Daniel Lichtmann. The other body was that of artist Benjamin Wind, who Daniel helped propel into fame.
Then story then takes us back to 1928 Vienna and the world of ten-year-old Josef Pick. While Pick is visiting with his maternal Grandfather Pommeranz (a failed Rabbi and struggling ketubah artist) the grandfather discovers there is an amazing artistic talent dormant within the young Josef when the young man begins to create a sacred ketubah, the illuminated marriage contract of the Jews.
Author Andrew Winer has juxtaposed the seemingly unrelated worlds of Daniel Lichtmann and Josef Pick in a carefully woven tapestry of family struggles, heartache and denials stretching over decades and continents. As Daniel starts on his journey to uncover the truth of his wife's death he's forced confront his own beliefs and what's important to him in his world. He also must learn to understand the motivations of people and their far reaching consequences.
Like the story's young Josef Pick, Winer is also an artist. However, it is his use of words and the images they create that make The Marriage Artist the compelling work that it is. I must add that I got a bit lost for a short period as I felt the story bogged down towards the middle act, but the ending more than made up for the short term issue.
I do recommend this book, it's a heartfelt study of family, faith, trust, truth and what we do to survive.