By Ekta R. Garg
August 27, 2014
Rated: Bookmark it!
A young woman leaves her promising life in Paris and follows her husband to a Provence village so they can care for his grandfather. She tries to ignore her desire to return to Paris, but when World War II starts she realizes that serendipity has spared her from the horrors that war brings. Susan Vreeland dedicates her time to showcasing a lesser recognized aspect of the war years in the lovely albeit measured novel Lisette’s List.
Lisette cannot believe she has to leave everything she loves about Paris behind: her wonderful home, a potential position in an art gallery, and the opportunity to live in the art and fashion capital of the world. Her husband, Andre, has decided to move back to his childhood home in a village in Provence, giving up his own position as a member of the guild of painting frame-makers. For Andre caring for his grandfather means a chance to show his appreciation to the man who raised him. For Lisette it means foregoing any chance of advancing in the art world, just when the art world has begun taking dramatic, exciting turns.
Despite her intentions to keep to herself, the village and its charming, caring residents begin to make a positive impression on her. Although Pascal, Andre’s grandfather, admits to trumping up his ailments, Lisette realizes that she can learn a lot from him about the thing that she loves most: art. He gives her the information at his disposal, and she imbibes it all. Several paintings hanging in his home form the center of this information, and little by little Lisette learns that these paintings could mean a lot to the art world.
Soon the Second World War begins, and Andre leaves the village to join the armed forces. Lisette spends her days worrying about Andre’s safety and trying to contribute to the war efforts. In the meantime the village constable has begun visiting Lisette and offering her outlandish gifts in the hopes of attracting her attention. When tragedy comes to the village, Lisette must gather all of her strength and knowledge to move past it to tackle a new challenge: someone has taken the paintings, and she must find them before the Germans do.
Author Susan Vreeland excels in historical fiction centering on art. In Lisette’s List, once again, Vreeland gives her readers sumptuous details of paintings and the craft behind them. She also focuses on an aspect of WWII that most people don’t write about: the families left behind. Vreeland delves into the hearts and lives of the wives and mothers who must wait for their loved ones to come home.
Readers may feel like the descriptions and details of the paintings keep the pace from accelerating, but Vreeland never lets her characters or her plot linger too long on the paintings. The paintings operate as a focal point of the story, but at its heart is a protagonist who grows and learns and shares with readers her joys and sorrows. The result: a novel as full of depth as the Impressionism paintings Vreeland favors.
I highly recommend Lisette’s List for lovers of historical fiction.