Monday, August 24, 2015

A Recent (and Fun!) Read: The Art Forger by BA Shapiro

A year and a half ago I read The Forger's Spell by Edward Dolnick. I'd just visited Atlanta's High Museum of Art's Dutch painters exhibit. I loved the exhibit, and the highlight was seeing the real "Girl with a Pearl Earring" as the last painting in the exhibit. I had built the book up and was so excited to read it, but was disappointed.

The Forger's Spell was a let down. Only a few parts interested me as a person who enjoys art but can only draw stick figures (my recent visit to a BYOB and paint-your-own-canvas thing produced a piece I'm not sure is worth hanging in my house).

Fast forward to this summer. I borrowed The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro from a friend, and this book has made up for the other in a sense. The book begins 25 years after the robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston (right about now). A talented painter named Claire has been trying to make it as an artist and win back a good reputation after accusations of a forging a painting a few years before. To earn money to supplement her own original works, Claire is paid to paint copies of famous paintings sold as fakes online by a large retailer. When she's approached by a trusted friend from the art world with a secret project with a large paycheck, Claire struggles to make a decision that's ethical and true to herself.

While I'd still be interested to read an interesting nonfiction book about the underground world of forging the works of famous artists, and the theft at the Gardner Museum, I enjoyed this book. The Art Forger was fun fiction, and was just the right amount of art for a person like me with good pacing and a character I could understand.

It's an interesting time to be reading a book like The Art Forger, as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the U.S. Department of Justice have just released new information on the heist this month. The two men who stole some of the world's most valuable paintings are now confirmed dead, though their names haven't been released. Now the investigation to locate those paintings continues.

Here's hoping they catch the thief and someone writes a good book about how they got away with it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Review: In the Language of Miracles by Rajia Hassib

Published by: Viking
Published on: August 11, 2015
Page Count: 272
Genre: Fiction
My Reading Format: ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Available Formats: Hardcover, Kindle

My Review:

The Al-Menshawys, who immigrated to the United States from Egypt 15 years before, are living the American dream. Father Samir, mother Nagla, grandmother Ehsan, and teenage children Khaled, Hossam and Fatima are living comfortably in a suburban small town outside of New York City. For over a decade they've been best friends with the Bradstreets next door. Hossam's relationship with the Bradstreets' daughter Natalie has become more than a friendship until suddenly and violently, the worlds of both families are changed forever. What the Al-Menshawys chalked up to teenage moodiness was more serious than they anticipated. When Natalie ends their relationship, Hossam takes her life and his own in a nearby park. 

When the book begins, these two families have spent the year since the deaths of their children quietly removed from each other. The Al-Menshawys have carefully navigated their community. Samir's medical practice has suffered, Ehsan is keeping house while Nagla is still coming to terms with what has happened and Khaled is still getting harassed at school.

To commemorate the anniversary of their daughter's death, Jim and Cynthia are planning a tree planting and a memorial service at the park, and the public has been invited to attend. As a courtesy, Cynthia stops by the Al-Menshawys to make sure they're aware of the service. It's the first time the two families have spoken in a year.

Though the Al-Menshawys have grieved and struggled to make sense of Hossam's actions, the anniversary of the deaths brings to the surface the emotions that each family member individually has tried to keep quiet.

I liked so many things about In the Language of Miracles. The back-and-forth of the storyline works well as a structure, as it keeps the information dripping out for the reader a little at a time. I liked learning about the Egyptian culture of the Al-Menshawys and how it both changed and stayed the same as they settled into their American life. I liked this family of sad, believable characters. Hassib wrote convincingly about three different generations that although they still lived together under one roof, they were growing further apart. 

This book is a good reminder to appreciate and forgive cultural differences, realize that the grief process goes on long after a funeral service has ended and that everyone handles a loved one's death in their own time and on their own terms. This book is a good reminder to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, as you never know what they may be facing underneath the surface.

Four out of Five Stars

If you liked this book, you’ll like Zeitoun by Dave Eggers and And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard.