Thursday, January 2, 2014

Recent Read: The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick

Have you ever had really high hopes for a book and are so disappointed when that book doesn't meet your expectations? It happens.

This summer I went to Atlanta's High Museum's exhibit, "Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshaus." It featured 35 paintings by Dutch artists of centuries past including Vermeer and Rembrandt. I enjoyed it. I loved the beautiful colors and the simple lives portrayed in many of the works. Then, the last painting of the exhibit was "Girl with a Pearl Earring," and seeing it in person was fantastic.

Years ago I read Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier and saw the movie. It's the kind of historical fiction I just love.

Then shortly before I visited the High this summer I read the New York Times story, "Report of Nazi-Looted Trove Puts Art World in an Uproar" and was fascinated. This summer in Austria and Germany my family and I learned about the treasures Adolf Hitler and his cronies stored up during the Third Reich.

After that news story I was ready to read The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick, a book I'd bought at the exhibit this summer. I was excited about reading it on my Thanksgiving break. I didn't finish it until the day after Christmas (yes, it's completely unheard of for it to take me a month to read a book). Part of the reason is because I had a busy work life wrapping up 2013. The other reason it because I just plodded through it. It didn't hold my interest and was really a disappointment considering how I'd worked it up beforehand.

The book focused nearly entirely on the forger, Han van Meegeren, a Dutch painter who found he could make more money forging the work of the famous Dutch painters of the previous centuries than selling his own original works. Long story short, the book focused way too much, for my taste, on the specifics of how van Meegeren pulled one over on the art world and not nearly enough time talking about the Nazi party officials and their desire to get their hands on the artistic and cultural works of the countries they occupied, and how he was finally found out. Admittedly, I don't have much of a background in art but I do enjoy it. I also enjoy a good story that's told well. If it's historical nonfiction it needs to keep my interest and unfortunately this just didn't measure up.

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