From the author of the New York Times bestseller The Art Forger come a thrilling new novel of art, history, love, and politics that traces the life and mysterious disappearance of a brilliant young artist on the eve of World War II. Alizee Benoit, an American painter working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) vanishes in New York City in 1940 amid personal and political turmoil. No one knows that happened to her. Not her Jewish family living in German-occupied France. Not her artistic patron and political compatriot, Eleanor Roosevelt. Not her close-nit group of friends, including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner. And, some seventy years later, not her great-niece, Danielle Abrams, who while working at Christie's auction house uncovers enigmatic paintings hidden behind recently found works by those now famous Abstract Expressionist artists. Do they hold answers to the questions surrounding her missing aunt? Entwining the live of both historical and fictional characters, and moving between the past and the present, The Muralist plunges readers into the divisiveness of prewar politics and the largely forgotten plight of European refugees refused entrance to the United States. It captures both the inner working of todays New York art scene and the beginnings of the vibrant and quintessentially American school of Abstract Expressionism. B.A. Shaprio is a master at telling a gripping story while exploring provocative themes. In Alezee and Danielle she has created two unforgettable women, artists both, who compel us to ask, What happens when luminous talent collides with inexorable historical forces? Does great art have the power to change the world? And to what lengths should a person to thwart evil?
I enjoyed the historic aspects of the book, in particular the disinterest by the general American population for receiving Jewish refugees from Europe. The subject matter is timely considering current political opinions concerning war refugees. I also enjoyed the background information on famous abstract artists: Pollock, Rothko, and Krasner.
I recommend this book to fans of historic fiction especially those with an interest in WWII or art history.
In 1939, the reader is introduced to a brave young woman who when faced with the horrors that were facing her family became desperate in her attempt to save them. Alizee Benoit, an artist, is living in the United States and working for the
Alizee wants to use her art to influence the political situation and to illustrate the plight of the Jews. Some in the government are actively working against the emigration of Jews to America, trying to prevent or slow the issuance of visas for them. Eleanor is in favor of helping the Jews, as was Lyndon Johnson. Others in opposition to saving them are Breckinridge Long, Joseph Kennedy and Charles Lindbergh. The President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was of a mind to protect his election rather than to aid the Jews. Therefore, he is unwilling to do anything to rattle his constituents. They do not want war, they do not want the Jews, and he will not help Europe in its effort to defeat Hitler’s rise to power and jeopardize his political future. He waited until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor to respond.
In 2015, Danielle, Alizee’s niece, discovers pieces of a mural, that she believes were her aunt’s, behind some paintings in a collection of art that has been sent to her to be identified and verified for auction. She believes that these pieces of a mural might have been painted by her Aunt Alizee who has been missing since 1940. Her efforts to prove this are thwarted as her boss believes they are Mark Rothko’s work and that her attempts to prove they are Alizee’s are useless and unwarranted. Her aunt worked for the WPA together with artists like Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, and Lee Krasner, before they achieved fame. It was a time when Picasso was just beginning to exhibit his abstract art and he was not appreciated fully. She believes her aunt’s art has been lost. Danielle begins to research everything she can find to figure out what happened to her aunt, in spite of her instructions to abandon her investigation.
Slowly, as the story bounces, sometimes uncomfortably, between 1939 and 2015, the heinous history of Hitler is revealed. It is tastefully done and will not alarm the reader as most of the information is already well known; the situation at home and abroad is not welcoming to Jews. The story is more interesting when it takes place in 1939 than in 2015, as Danielle searches for clues to her aunt’s final whereabouts. As the mystery unfolds, there is a surprising, unexpected conclusion. Woefully naïve, and emotionally unstable in some way, Alizee was not prepared for the danger she would face or for the power of her enemies. When she received letters from her relatives describing the dire situation they faced, she became unraveled and made foolish decisions. She believed in her cause but was up against a bureaucracy that was far more powerful and able than she was. Is this story plausible? Perhaps not, but for me, Alizee represents the brave souls who tried to effect change and save lives during those terrible days leading up to and including the Holocaust, and Danielle represents the need today to keep the memory alive so that it won’t happen again and so that we can be reminded of the need for the Jews to have a homeland in which to feel safe and welcome.
The history is interesting and accurate, but I found the story to be not as engaging as I would have liked since no major new idea was presented. Many people suffered in Europe and many people in many countries tried in vain to save their families. Most faced opposition from all avenues of escape. Some of the details in the book were nostalgic, like references to a Betty Crocker calendar. Since the book doesn’t dwell on the horrors of the Holocaust, it is not a difficult read in that sense, however, reliving the horrors, even on the fringes, could be difficult for Jews, especially those that were directly affected with family loss and property loss.
In conclusion, the book’s plot seemed naïve and not very credible. The book did raise a question for me, however. Is the sacrifice of one life to save many, an honorable effort? Is it a crime of conscience? If that person is perceived as an enemy does the verdict change? It is a philosophical problem that has long been debated. Like the ethical dilemma of The Trolley Problem, whom do you save and whom do you sacrifice is difficult to answer?
I listened to an audio and found the narrator became too involved with her
presentation, speaking in a glib tone at times, sometimes staccato and sometimes in too conversational a tone, at others her voice was too soft and melancholy, and at other times the sing song nature of her tone and presentation was distracting and hard to follow. She simply did not enhance the book, but rather seemed to be presenting herself more than the story. She over indulged herself in her interpretation. I have listened to other books narrated by her and have to admit that I was pleased with only one of the narrations. I have a print copy of this book, but I didn’t find the tale compelling enough to plow through it again.
In light of the situation today in the Middle East and an administration hesitant to enter the fray with a forceful response, one can only hope there will not be a catastrophe that forces this President’s hand. Regarding Syrian immigrants, the book has jumped to the forefront and is very current in its message about allowing immigrants into the country. The Syrians are fleeing in massive numbers and countries are fearful of accepting them since some will be terrorists bent on death and destruction. How does one determine who is righteous and who is not? However, there is no moral equivalent between the Jewish immigrants and the Syrian immigrants. Jews were trying to escape the people who were trying to kill them. They had not waged war against anyone. The Syrians are Muslims, and some Islamic extremists have waged war against the world, and the United States. It is not easy to know which Syrian Muslim is the enemy and which is not. It is a conundrum because they also do not seem interested in becoming part of our Democracy, but rather, some seem to want to create a Theocracy ruled by Islamic laws.
The afterword does not make clear enough if all events cited in the book really occurred. For example, did Lyndon Johnson really illegally funnel refugees into Texas during the war?
A decent but not enthralling read. The Art Forger, her previous novel, was far superior.
Many discussions about art, creativity, the emotional highs and lows of the artists and the erratic actions of Pollock. Eleanor Roosevelt and her sponsoring of the artists and Breckinridge Long, a despicable man who wasted visas that could have let many more Jews into the United States. A very interesting read, taking place during a time of great political pressures. Shapiro uses two time lines in telling her story, Dani, who is trying to trace her aunt Alize, who had mysteriously disappeared after 1940, and of course Alize's
My only criticism is that at times it felt a bit preachy and the dialogue stilted. But, this is no way kept me from avidly enjoying this novel, love both art and history, and the story, both of them, flowed very well. It was quite fascinating reading about these Avant garde artists. Also loved the author's note which explained moved timelines and historical fact.
ARC from publisher.
One primary story line in the books is the struggle between the
This novel relates two stories in one with 2 main characters in 2 time periods. It begins in 2015 with Danielle Abrams whose great aunt Alizee Benoit, an artist, has seemed to have disappeared in 1940. The story is driven by the mystery of what happened to Alizee.I have to admit that I’m not usually a fan of books that bounce through different time zones and I found myself wanting to hurry through the chapters set in 2015 to get to the more (to me, anyway) Alizee’s more compelling story. In a way, thispropelled me through the book, so it may have been a good thing.
In 2015, Danielle Abrams (Dani) works as a cataloguer for Christies in New York. A lapsed artist, Dani receives several paintings that have been found in an attic. They could be
In1939, Alizee Benoit is working for the WPA (Works Progress Adminstration under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal). Her best friends are Jackson Pollock, Leo Krasner, and Mark Rothko. They are painting murals for various buildings, but their true passion is abstract expressionism.
Alizee is a Jew from France and has left her entire family there. As Hitler’s rise to power escalates, letters from her family become more and more desperate, begging her to help them obtain visas to get out. When she’s working on her art, she wants her paintings to reflect the Jewish crisis. When she’s working for the WPA but she’s forced to paint idyllic country scenes. Alizee gets to meet Eleanor Roosevelt, who becomes a champion of her art. This seems a tad implausible, but Shapiro is so deft as a writer, that it’s interesting but not a read-breaker.
Alizee’s family (her brother, aunt, uncle, and two cousins, one with a family) manage to get aboard the MS St. Louis. The plight of the 937 Jews trying to escape persecution was mentioned, but did not delve deep enough for me. That story is all but a footnote in history now, but readers who are curious can learn more about it in: Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust by Sarah A. Ogilvie and Scott Miller.
In the meantime, Dani discovers envelopes containing pieces of canvas behind the paintings that were recently discovered. Dani is also trying to uncover what happened to Alizee. She checked into a sanatorium in 1940 and simply disappeared.
The narrative weaves back and forth between the past and present, bring the art world of the mid-20th century to life. I had hoped to be swept away into this world while I read, but I was not. I was intrigued, but I didn’t find myself anxiously awaiting the time I could get back to the story. Therefore, I give The Muralist 4 out of 5 stars.
But the most important reason to love this book is simply because its well written, the characters are carefully
I definitely recommend this book