Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones

I have been missing writing reviews lately and won’t be back to it for a little while yet, but here is a link to my most recent review, which I wrote for BookBrowse, along with a short article that goes beyond the book and looks into a related subject.

Paint Your WifeThe book I reviewed was Lloyd Jones Paint Your Wife.

Lloyd Jones is a New Zealand writer, most well-known for his novel Mr Pip which made the Booker Prize shortlist and won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize.

Paint Your Wife is the story of the inhabitants of a small community, living in a town that has lost its charm and begins to rediscover it, when one of its citizens displays portraits of the towns women that he painted while their husbands were away at war.

It is a charming, fascinating insight, a kind of domestic novel, but from the male perspective and a tribute to picking up a paintbrush and pausing for some hours to actually observe what it is that is in front of you.

Pierre-Bonnard-The-Bathroom

Pierre Bonnard, The Bathroom

The accompanying article is about a number of well-known artists mentioned in the book, who painted their wives.

One in particular, whom the character Alma was fascinated by, the French artist Pierre Bonnard, only ever painted his wife from memory, something Alma aspired to.

Here is the link to my review at BookBrowse, the complete review will only be available for a short time for non-members, so check it out soon. It’s in This Weeks Top Picks, currently.

Click on the title to go to the review:

Book Review, Paint Your Wife

To buy a copy of the book, you can find it by clicking here:

Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones

 

Lloyd Jones recently wrote a memoir about his family history, called A History of Silence, there is a link to an extraordinary radio interview below, I am really looking forward to reading it and shall be writing more about him here in the near future.

A History of Silence

Links

Radio Interview – Uncovering the Mystery of his Family’s Past

Guest Post: ‘Conversations with the Universe: How the World Speaks to Us’ by Simran Singh

I’d like to introduce you to my friend Ana who I’ve known since I was 9 years old, went to school with, hung out in London in my 20’s with, celebrated the arrival of the new millennium with and many other great memories, past, present and future.

Claire and Ana playing scrabble in Raglan, New Zealand, just before the turn of the century.

Claire and Ana playing scrabble in Raglan, New Zealand, just before the turn of the century.

Ana is a life coach and mindfulness teacher and will be writing the occasional review on books of a spiritual nature, I asked her to say a little about her reading and life, so here she is in her own words and you can also follow her on her new blog/website Ana Reyes – Life Coach where she will be writing about life issues, life lessons, sharing inspirational resources, reviewing books and conducting life coach sessions, either in person or via Skype.

Meet Ana!

A heartfelt thanks to my friend Claire for sharing her inspiration, motivation & practical know how. Without you I would not be “live!” My hope in these books, is that a sentence, chapter or even entire book supports, nourishes and guides you on your journey. Enjoy!

I have always loved books that inspire, challenge and offer an alternative window through which to view life. I’ve trawled through, and read dozens of books on the library shelves with Dewey Decimal numbers linked to personal growth, meditation, the esoteric, angels…the list goes on. I cannot get enough. Many have made an impression, a fingerprint either small or large and ultimately I’ve learnt from them. For that, and these authors I’m truly grateful.

I was born in the Canary Islands, educated in Catholic schools and live in New Zealand; currently the South Island. Alongside my love of reading inspirational books, I’m a mum, teacher, life coach and yoga student. I have a fascination for astrology and a deep appreciation for my soul group of friends.

I hope you enjoy the reviews and I appreciate your thoughts on the books we explore together.

Review: Conversations With the Universe

“The Universe never stops talking to you. It avails itself of every possible avenue to get your attention.”

Simran Singh first came to my awareness through an interview I listened too. That interview led me to her TED talk, her 11:11 talk radio show and then to this book, ‘Conversations with the Universe.’

It’s a captivating read. Both immense in concepts that challenge our often narrow views of life and wise in guidance on how to broaden our perspective to see the benevolence & beauty within ourselves and others.

Singh is a passionate messenger. She says we are more than we realise. More powerful, more beautiful. In fact Divine. To evolve our Divinity, the world, or our world, guides and communicates to us on a daily basis.

The key for us, is to notice the signs, synchronicities and symbols that fill our days and dreams and to see them as self-created messages that encourage and guide us into alignment with our highest good. Observing these messages, whether it is a song on the radio, a repeating number or an alarm going off in the distance, all have relevance if we choose to notice.

universeGiven this, our world is a classroom in which we have abundant opportunities to heal and transform. Through this lens we are our flat tyre, the butterfly on the windowsill, the flooded basement.

The question to ask ourselves is: What is before me? What is here for me to heal/learn/grow? In this view our outer world is a reflection of us.

There are anecdotal stories woven into the chapters illustrating nothing in life is random, that all is a symphony asking us to become who we are meant to be. The true “Self.”

“We are the mess, the message and the messenger of our lives.”

‘Conversations with the Universe’ is a deeply compassionate book. It emphasises self-reflection and inner healing to free ourselves of suffering and at the same time reassure us:

“Whether you are stuck in your muck and liking it or rewriting your story and becoming the hero, there is magic in your midst.”

We are encouraged to live bigger, with less fear and to see beyond our narrow ‘reality’ (really illusion). To understand our birth right is to live fully and joyously.

The Sunset HD Desktop BackgroundThere are practical exercises throughout the book to encourage reflection of both our inner and outer worlds. Acceptance, awareness and forgiveness are necessities: we are human, imperfect, but at the same time magnificent Divine co-creators of our life.

“You are not on a journey, YOU are the journey. That journey is asking you to experience YOU in discovery. This means that there is no end goal or destination but a never-ending path of realizing ALL that you are. Step into the magnificence of infinite possibility.”

I loved Singh’s palpable wisdom and inspiration, captured through her beautiful writing style. Paragraphs and pages needed to be re-read to allow my mind and heart to expand around the author’s vast view of life. It’s a book that could be re-read many times and with each reading new insights would emerge. It’s definitely one that will stay on my bedside table for a long, long time.

Our lives are designed beautifully. They have been created in the most unconditionally loving way, without interference or hindrance, other than that of our own choosing. But they also have the gifts of ‘choice’ and ‘asking.’

Thank you so much Ana for sharing with us your own insightful and thoughtful review of such an inspired book, full of resonance and wisdom. We certainly do need more of these reminders in our daily lives, not just to keep us in line with who we really are, but to drown out the often loud and distracting noise of the media.

Buy This Book

If you are interested to learn more,click on the link below to buy the book.

Buy Conversations with the Universe at Book Depository

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Buddha in the AtticBuddha in the Attic is a unique novella told in the first person plural “we”,  narrating the story of a group of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago.

In eight chapters, that read like a rhythmical chant, it traces the brides’ lives, beginning at the point of departure after leaving their predictable village lives, to the much-anticipated, though often frightening, boat journey and their arrival in San Francisco.

Some of us were so dizzy we could not even walk, and lay in our berths in a dull stupor, unable to remember our own names, not to mention those of our new husbands. Remind me one more time, I am Mrs. Who?

It recounts their first nights as new wives, the hard manual labour in new fields, cleaning house for white women, their struggles to master the language and understand the culture, to experiences in childbirth, as mothers, raising children who will lose their heritage and history, though continue to be marked by it, with the terrifying arrival of war and it damning label of them as the enemy.

At night we sat in our kitchens with our husbands as they pored over the day’s papers, scrutinizing every line, every word, for clues to our fate. We discussed the latest rumours. I hear they’re putting us into work camps to grow food for the troops.

Julie Otsuka has created a unique and original way to narrate the collective story of these Japanese mail order brides and their many experiences around common themes, we imagine the narrator as one of them, though we do not know which of the experiences are hers, as she balances them equally, one beside the other, in repetitive, elegiac prose.

This collective storytelling in effect brings our perception of them together, creating a sense of community, despite the suffering. It s as if, through sharing their experiences in these paragraphs, they become stronger, better able to cope, the author bringing them together. The “we” narrative unites them, we read and feel for them as a group, as if they are together. Otsuka brings them together in a lyrical expression of tasks, sufferings, looks, sighs, memories.

Apart from the initial boat ride over the seas from Japan to the US, there is little joy, they discover they are the lowest of low in the pecking order, equivalent to slaves, seen as quiet and submissive, hard workers.  Some take it in their stride, others will fall by the wayside.

They admired us for our strong backs and nimble hands/ Our stamina. Our discipline. Our docile dispositions. Our unusual ability to tolerate the heat, which on summer days in the melon fields of Brawley could reach 120 degrees. They said that our short stature made us ideally suited for work that required stooping low to the ground. Wherever they put us they were pleased. We had all the virtues of the Chinese – we were hardworking, we were patient, we were unfailingly polite – but none of their vices – we didn’t gamble or smoke opium, we didn’t brawl, we never spat. We were faster than the Filipinos and less arrogant than the Hindus. We were more disciplined than the Koreans. We were soberer than the Mexicans. We were cheaper to feed than the Okies ad Arkies, both the light and the dark. A Japanese can live on a teaspoonful of rice a day. We were the best breed of worker they had ever hired in their lives.

041812_1115_HotelontheC2.gifAnd as if it couldn’t get any worse, war happens, and they discover they are the enemy, they are regarded suspiciously and in time sent away.

This part is narrated by “them”, the communities within which they have existed alongside, though never really been a part of, certainly not appreciated – at least not until the Orkies and Arkies move in, who are not quiet and hard-working like the Japanese.

It is a soulful lament, a long sad narrative of a life of toil and disappointment that is endured, a disappearance that is unwarranted, a tribute to those who dreamed of a better life, who travelled across an ocean believing they would find it only to be betrayed bitterly.

041812_1115_HotelontheC1.jpgIt reminded me, not in style, but in subject of Jamie Ford’s The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a story of childhood friends in Seattle, second generation immigrants caught up in the brutal reality of being perceived as untrustworthy, having the skin of an enemy.

Their plows weighed more than we did, and were difficult to use, and their horses were twice the size of our horses back home in Japan. We could not harness them without climbing up on orange crates, or standing on stools, and the first time we shouted out to them to move they just stood there snorting and pawing at the ground. Were they deaf? Were they dumb? Or were they just being stubborn? “These are American horse,” our husbands explained. “They don’t understand Japanese.” And so we learned our first words of horse English. “Giddyap” was what you said to make the horse go forward, and “Back” was what you said to make it back up. “Easy” was what you said to make it slow down, and “Whoa” was what you said to make it stop. And after fifty years in America these would be the only words of English some of us could still remember by heart.

Julie Otsuka speaks here (in English) about the inspiration behind Buddha in the Attic, which won the French Prix Femina Etranger 2012 translated as Certaines n’avaient jamais vu la mer for the French edition.

Man Booker International Longlist 2016 #MBI2016

MBI logoToday the longlist of the newly formed Man Booker International (MBI) 2016 was announced. In the past, this award was made every two years to an author for a body of work, so usually an author who has written numerous novels and is recognised as having made a significant literary contribution.

That changed after 2015, which was the last year under the old rules, I remember last year, from the longlist of 10 authors you can see here, I decided to read some of the works of the Guadeloupean author Maryse Condè.

She didn’t win the prize, but she was the right choice for me. I read her childhood essays Tales From The Heart, True Stories From My Childhood , the novel Victoire: My Mother’s Mother and the masterpiece she is most well-known for Segu.

Maryse Condé

Maryse Condé

Literary Works of Maryse Condé

In addition to the MBI, there was another prize called the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP) which rewarded one novel, a recent publication, that had been translated into English in the previous year.

In 2016, these two prizes have joined together, to become one, retaining the rules of the IFFP Prize and the name of the Man Booker International Prize. The £50,000 prize is shared equally between the author and the translator.

Boyd Tonkin, chair of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize judging panel, said:

‘For the first longlist in its new form, the Man Booker International Prize invites readers to share a thrilling journey of discovery across the finest fiction in translation.

The 13 books that the judges have chosen not only feature superb writing from Brazil to Indonesia, from Finland to South Korea, from Angola to Italy. Our selection highlights the sheer diversity of great fiction today.

From intense episodes of passion to miniature historical epics; from eerie fables of family strife to character-driven chronicles of urban life, this list showcases fiction that crosses every border. It also pays tribute to the skill and dedication of the first-rate translators who convey it to English-language readers.’

Thirteen books have been announced on the longlist:

José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola) Daniel Hahn, A General Theory of Oblivion – On the eve of Angolan independence an agoraphobic woman bricks herself into her apartment for 30 years, living off vegetables and the pigeons she lures in with diamonds, burning her furniture and books to stay alive, writing her story on the apartment’s walls.

Elena Ferrante (Italy) Ann Goldstein, The Story of the Lost Child – book four in the Neapolitan saga of two friends, Lena and Lila, now adults, returning to their childhood town, dealing with life as mother’s, lovers, surviving an earthquake, tragedies of nature and humanity.

Han Kang (South Korea) Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian – Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion.

Maylis de Kerangal (France) Jessica Moore, Mend the Living – takes place over twenty-four hours surrounding a fatal accident and a resulting heart transplant as life is taken from a young man and given to a woman close to death, examining the deepest feelings of everyone involved.

Eka Kurniawan (Indonesia) Labodalih Sembiring, Man Tiger – A slim, wry story set in an unnamed town near the Indian Ocean, Man Tiger tells the story of two interlinked and tormented families, and of Margio, an ordinary half-city, half-rural youngster who also happens to be half-man, half-supernatural female white tiger.

Yan Lianke (China) Carlos Rojas, The Four Books – In the ninety-ninth district of a sprawling labour camp, the Author, Musician, Scholar, Theologian and Technician are undergoing Re-education, to restore their revolutionary zeal and credentials. In charge of this process is the Child, who delights in draconian rules, monitoring behaviour and confiscating treasured books.

Divided into four narratives, echoing the four texts of Confucianism and the four Gospels of the New Testament, The Four Books tells the story of one of China’s most controversial periods, demonstrating the power of camaraderie, love and faith against oppression and the darkest possible odds.

Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Democratic Republic of Congo/Austria) Roland Glasser, Tram 83 – In a war-torn African city-state tourists converge with students, ex-pats and locals. Their one desire: to make a fortune by exploiting the wealth of the country, both mineral and human. As night falls, they go out to drink, dance, eat and abandon themselves in Tram 83, the only night-club of the city, a den of all iniquities. An African-rhapsody novel infused with the rhythms of jazz.

Raduan Nassar (Brazil) Stefan Tobler, A Cup of Rage – A pair of lovers – a young female journalist and an older man who owns an isolated farm in the Brazilian outback – spend the night together. The next day they proceed to destroy each other. Erotic cult novel by one of Brazil’s most infamous modernist writers explores alienation, the desire to dominate and the wish to be dominated.

Marie NDiaye (France) Jordan Stump, Ladivine – a psychological tale of a trauma that ensnares three generations of women, via a woman captive to a secret shame. Once a month, Clarisse Rivière leaves her family and secretly takes the train to visit her mother, Ladivine. Just as Clarisse’s husband and daughter know nothing of Ladivine, Clarisse has hidden nearly every aspect of her adult life from this woman, whom she dreads, despises but also pities.

Kenzaburō Ōe (Japan) Deborah Boliner Boem, Death by Water – his recurring protagonist and literary alter-ego returns to his hometown village in search of a red suitcase fabled to hold documents revealing the details of his father’s death during WWII: details that will serve as the foundation for his new, and final, novel.

Aki Ollikainen (Finland) Emily Jeremiah & Fleur JeremiahWhite Hunger – 1867: a year of devastating famine in Finland. Marja, a farmer’s wife from the north, sets off on foot through the snow with her two young children. Their goal: St Petersburg, where people say there is bread. Others are also heading south, just as desperate to survive.

Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) Ekin Oklap, A Strangeness in My Mind – the story of Mevlut, the woman to whom he wrote three years’ worth of love letters, and their life in Istanbul. Mevlut Karataş sells boza (a traditional mildly alcoholic Turkish drink) in Istanbul and wishes for love and riches. He doesn’t have the best of luck (falling in love with a woman and accidentally eloping with the sister) as he ages, attempts to discover what is missing from his life.

Robert Seethaler (Austria) Charlotte Collins, A Whole Life – Andreas lives his whole life in the Austrian Alps, arriving as a boy taken in by a farming family. A man of few words, when he falls in love with Marie, he has friends light her name at dusk across the mountain. When she dies in an avalanche, pregnant with their first child, Andreas’ heart is broken. He leaves the valley just once more, in WWII – and is taken prisoner in the Caucasus – returning to find modernity has reached his remote haven.

*****

A fabulous lineup of books and authors across countries and languages. I have read two of the books, Elena Ferrante’s The Story of the Lost Child and Aki Ollikainen’s White Hunger, both of which are excellent, and although I haven’t read The Vegetarian, I have read Han Kang’s more recent novel Human Acts which was brilliant!

I’d love to read Marie NDiaye, Orhan Pamuk, Kenzaburō Ōe, Robert Seethaler, Yan Lianke, they all sound fantastic. And Man Tiger sounds interesting, and I definitely want to read more of Han Kang!

A shortlist of six books will be announced on 14 April.

So many great reads, which of these sounds the most appealing to you? Have you read any already?

Further Reading

The Guardian ArticleMan Booker International 2016 longlist includes banned and pseudonymous authors

Purchase A Book:

If you wish to buy one of the above books, you can do so via the Book Depository link below, with whom I have an affiliation.

Buy One of These Books at Book Depository

 

Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction LongList 2016 #IWD2016

Baileys logo 2016Today is International Women’s Day, this year the theme is #PledgeForParity and the Baileys Women’s Prize certainly does a lot to advance that challenge, with their ambition to bring the best women’s writing and female storytellers to ever-wider audiences.

In selecting the following 20 titles for the longlist the Chair of Judges Margaret Mountford shared that:

“We had a hugely enjoyable and stimulating meeting, as there were a great many strong novels in contention. We are delighted with the quality, the imaginative scope and the ambition of our chosen books, a longlist which reflects the judges’ interests and tastes. We hope readers will enjoy the variety of outstanding work on offer.”

Half the longlist are debuts, they represent seven nationalities, four previous shortlisted authors and the first Zimbabwean author to be longlisted for the prize.

The longlisted books are as follows:

Kate AtkinsonA God in Ruins – Teddy, would-be poet, heroic World War II bomber pilot, husband, father, and grandfather, whom we met in her previous book Life after Life navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century.

Shirley BarrettRush Oh! – Australia 1908, Mary supports her father’s boisterous whaling crews during a harsh season, while caring for five brothers and sisters in the wake of their mother’s death.

Cynthia Bond: Ruby – Heart-breaking tragedy and graphic abuse in lyrical prose, Ruby escapes her past only to have to return and it doesn’t sound as pretty as she is.

Geraldine Brooks: The Secret Chord – a retelling of the story of King David, one I’ve read and reviewed.

Becky Chambers: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – the first in a sci-fi series, a martian woman, an alien pilot and a pacifist captain, humanity a minor player in this fun and sometimes dangerous adventure.

Jackie Copleton: A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – A woman opens the door of her Philadelphia home to a badly scarred man claiming to be her grandson, who perished nearly forty years ago during the bombing of Nagasaki, with a collection of sealed private letters…

Rachel Elliott: Whispers Through a Megaphone – Miriam, who whispers, hasn’t left the house in 3 years, and today has had enough, she will venture out. Ralph discovers his wife doesn’t love him and runs away. They meet.

Anne Enright: The Green Road – the story of Rosaleen, Irish matriarch of the Madigan family, and her four children, spanning 30 years and three generations. The battles we wage for family, faith, and love.

Petina Gappah: The Book of Memory – Memory, an albino woman imprisoned in Harare, Zimbabwe, has been convicted of the murder of her adopted father. A tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate, the treachery of memory.

Vesna Goldsworthy: Gorsky – A modern Gatsby set amongst contemporary London’s über-rich Russians.

Clio Gray: The Anatomist’s Dream – Born with a defect, abandoned by parents, he joins a carnival, finding friendship among an assortment of ‘freak show’ artists, magicians and entertainers, then meets someone who recommends a cure.

Melissa Harrison: At Hawthorn Time – four lives, the importance of community, our relationship to nature, belonging and the freedom of the unknown, contemplative, for fans of compelling nature writing.

Attica Locke: Pleasantville – legal thriller set during a dangerous game of shadowy politics, a missing girl, election night, a tussle for power, sounds like a TV series, oh yes, she writes those too.

Lisa McInerney: The Glorious Heresies – a messy murder affects the lives of five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society. Dark humour explores Irish 20th C attitudes to sex, family.

Elizabeth McKenzie: The Portable Veblen – Set in Palo Alto, amid the culture clash of new money and old values,  amid the threat of looming wars. Humorous, contemporary family saga with a cute squirrel cover!

Sara Nović: Girl at War – Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana is a carefree tomboy playing in the streets of Croatia, civil war breaks out, tragedy, guerilla warfare, the world child soldiers, a daring escape plan.

Julia Rochester: The House at the Edge of the World – Father of teenage twins falls off a cliff,drunk, soon after their lives separate, they return, delving into the past, their grandfather’s mysterious, painted family record created over an ordnance chart, a lyrical journey through character ad mystery of family.

Hannah Rothschild: The Improbability of Love – A character getting over a broken heart, the discovery and mystery of an old painting, a lost masterpiece by an 18th C French artist, a melange of entertaining stories, voices, characters, points of view.

Elizabeth Strout: My Name is Lucy Barton – Lucy is visited by her mother, whom she hasn’t spoken to in years, while recovering from an operation, a story of family, damaged relationships, unspoken childhood events, coming to terms with the past, navigating the future, keenly observant, deeply human, unforgettable.

Hanya Yanagihara: A Little Life – follows the complicated relationships of four men over decades in NYC, their joys and burdens, Jude’s journey to stability, scarred by a horrific childhood with its prolonged physical and emotional effects.

*******

Voila! The final list of 20 novels, I have only read one and it wasn’t my cup of tea, there are lots of new names in the list for me, as well as the familiar. Elizabeth Strout’s new novel looks promising, At Hawthorn Time looks like my kind of book, I’m intrigued by The Book of Memory and Anne Enright’s is bound to be great reading and writing and I’m definitely going to read Kate Atkinson’s follow-up novel eventually.

For a more comprehensive short review of al these titles, check out the link to The Irish Times article below:

No idea who will win but this is the gems are!

Which book(s) appeals to you from the list?

Further Reading:

Article in Irish Times: Lisa McInerney and Anne Enright on Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist

Purchase A Book:

If you wish to buy one of the above books, you can do so via the Book Depository link below, with who I have become affiliated.

Buy One of These Books at Book Depository

Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe by Dawn Tripp

I’ve loved Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings since I stumbled across them one weekend in an art gallery in Chicago and felt the effect of them, rather than saw them as such, for they are indeed imbued with feeling and when you see one of her large canvases with its bold visual statement, well for me anyway, you can’t help but be moved by it, struck dumb by it, to stop and appreciate how this artist communicated something deep within you, without words or reality. I felt it almost like a punch, I didn’t quite understand what it was, but I wanted to know who is was that had created that effect on me.

Although I bought a beautiful book about her paintings, it was something less intellectual and more personal I was after. I found a very old, yellowed copy of Laurie Lisle’s Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe.

It provided an excellent framework of her life, her childhood and introduction to art, her various shows, her marriage and need for solitude and her eventual move to that part of the world that most resonated with her, New Mexico.

However, O’Keeffe comes off as a rather distant, aloof character, seen from the outside, rather brusque, detached. The biography filled in her life, but left me still wanting to know who she was, sure there was much more to her that we would benefit from knowing.

One of the things that makes Georgia O’Keeffe such an interesting character is not just her work, but her essence, her self-knowledge and ability to act upon it, to ensure that she lived in a way that allowed her art to express itself in an authentic way. When she wasn’t able to do this, her mental health declined, however she knew how to resolve it and in acting accordingly, lived to the age of 98.

She married the well-known gallery owner and photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, something of a scandal as she was 25 years his junior and he left an unhappy marriage for her, but she never collapses into the relationship, they find a way of supporting each other, that also allows them be individuals and to pursue (most of) their own ambitions wholeheartedly.

Inevitably there would always be compromise, Stieglitz accepted that O’Keeffe needed to spend a portion of the year in New Mexico without him and O’Keeffe had to accept that Stieglitz did not want to become a father again.

GeorgiaWhich all leads me on to say it was with quiet anticipation to learn that Dawn Tripp had the courage, respect and admiration for O’Keeffe to decide to venture into creating a work of fiction, that attempts to channel the voice of Georgia O’Keeffe. What might she have really been thinking if it was her voice relating the story of this life and not someone from the outside.

Georgia: A Novel of Georgia O’Keeffe does exactly that.

Dawn Tripp similarly came across her story through her art, after seeing an exhibition of her abstractions at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2009. She had been aware of her work, but experienced something different that day.

As early as the fall of 1915, at twenty-nine-years old, she was creating radical abstract forms when only a handful of artists were bold enough to explore this new language of modern art. Her abstractions of that time – and those she continued to create throughout her life – were ambitious, gorgeous shapes of colour and form designed to express and evoke emotion, and they were stunningly original.

It provokes in the author, a desire to want to know this woman, the artist, the creator of these stunning works and why she was not recognised for the visionary power of these abstractions during her lifetime. There were excerpts from letters as part of the show:

The language of those letters was sharply intimate, vulnerable, complex. O’Keeffe’s letters revealed a woman of exceptional passion, a rigorous intelligence, and a strong creative drive. Her letters had a raw heat that felt deeply aligned with the abstract pictures I was seeing on the walls, but at odds with the image of O’Keeffe I’d grown up with: the aged doyenne of the Southwest, poised and cool, holding the world at arm’s length.

My Faraway OneWhen the novel was almost complete, the correspondence of O’Keeffe and Stieglitz was published, having been sealed for twenty-five years after her death.

It was a pleasure to read this novel that attempts to get inside that mind and share something that feels more genuine in terms of what her work intended, than the easy reference that so many of the male critics of the time jumped to, insinuating the sexual by responding to the visual elements of Stieglitz’s nude photos of her and the soft interior of her giant flowers, rather than the essence of life itself pushing forth.

This is the Georgia O’Keeffe I’ve wanted to know, and suspected existed, from someone who has tried to absorb her childhood, upbringing and place in the world, attempting to understand what she was trying to express and how it was both uplifted and repressed by the decisions she made.

To explore those initial choices, few of which were her own, the effect of Steiglitz managing and directing her career, their relationship, her need for a child, their life between New York and Lake George until the moment when she allows herself to visit New Mexico with her friend Beck and begins an annual pilgrimage to a place that will eventually consume her entirely and become her home, both physically and spiritually.

We see O’Keeffe as a young independent woman, learn about her family background, their vulnerability to TB, the shock of meeting Stieglitz’s wife and family, the abundance of material wealth and food, she so close to nature – and yet so attracted to him, his mind and his person.

Georgia O'Keeffe, 1920

Georgia O’Keeffe, 1920

She resents her art being seen through his lens of her, by the critics, that association with gender, the feminine. The thing that builds her up, blinds them to the work as she sees it. She seeks solitude. She resists being photographed, unable to convince through other means. By the time Stieglitz divorces, Georgia is lacklustre on marriage.

Her mental decline from accepting it all, the inevitable, necessary turning point, turning away from her husband, though forever connected to him.

Dawn Tripp has us completely immersed in a perception of the life of Georgia O’Keeffe that feels as real as if it were the artist herself speaking, though we all know how private she was, and through this novel we understand that need even more so.

People can be sceptical of the fictional biography, but when it is well researched, and the author has found the appropriate voice, and treats the subject with respect and understanding, it brings history alive and makes it accessible to a much wider audience than the more traditional, detached form of narrative.

I highlighted so many paragraphs and sections in the book, it would make the review too long to show them. All the better to discover the words for yourself.

Absolutely brilliant, loved it.

Notes on the Paintings Depicted

OKeeffe painting“Pink Tulip”, 1926, Georgia O’Keeffe, oil on canvas, 36” x 30”
The Baltimore Museum of Art, Bequest of Mabel Garrison Siemonn, in memory of her husband George Siemonn.
©Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Georgia O’Keeffe, Untitled (City Night) (Untitled – Night city), Seventies © 2009 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / © Georgia O

Georgia O’Keeffe White Iris, No. 7 (White Iris # 7), 1957 © 2009 by Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / © Georgia O

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Ram’s Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills,” 1935, Oil on canvas, 30 x 36 in. Brooklyn Museum, New York.

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Note: The book was an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) kindly provided by the publisher via Netgalley.

ARTE by Kei Ohkubo Episode One #Manga

Arte 1I learned that yesterday was World Book Day and when asked if I did anything to celebrate, I realised that I’d done something I’ve never done before in terms of reading, I finished my first Japanese Manga called ARTE, illustrated and written by Kei Ohkubo translated into French and set in Florence Italy!

My daughter never liked reading books when she was younger and seemed almost stressed out by the appearance of so many words on the page, it provoked some kind of anxiety and there was nothing I could do to encourage her.

One day she came home from school with a book in her hand and didn’t stop to look up and continued to her bedroom to read. I was fascinated, what was this book that got her reading and why was she reading it back to front?

It was a Japanese manga and although it was translated into French, they still published them with the front cover on the back and you must read and turn the pages from right to left, from the back to the front – I am sure this is an excellent brain exercise!

Arte, was the first volume I chose, I wanted to read one myself, though not the genre my daughter reads (and creates – she’s created more than one of her own series preferring storytelling through drawing and dialogue), which has more of a gothic orientation.

I also chose it to show her some images of Italy through storytelling and to reinforce why it is a beautiful language to learn (she started the school year late and there were no more places in Spanish class, so she has been forced to learn Italian).

So reading a new genre that immerses itself into another culture, reading it in another language seemed like a fun way to celebrate World Book Day. And not to mention it has a fabulous, feisty, young woman protagonist, just the thing for an adolescent girl and her mother to read!

Arte lives in Florence at the beginning of the 16th century and dreams of becoming a painter, a wish indulged when her father was still alive, but scorned by her mother after he dies, a young woman must marry to ensure the continued protection and support of the family, her passions were secondary, not deemed important.

arte Ohkubo

Arte rebels against this idea and with determination visits the city’s ateliers in search of an apprenticeship, only to be laughed at and scorned by the community, until one young artisan offers her a challenge, he thinks she won’t achieve, and then must fulfil his promise to let her become his apprentice. Although she is of noble birth and he of humble origin, he discovers they share a common motivation to want to pursue art in their lives.

Eventually he takes her to meet a client, one whom he often makes a portrait of. The client wishes Arte to paint the portrait, thus life begins to change for Arte!

Although the story appears to show painting as a domain for men and Arte a young feminist, wanting equally to indulge her passion and develop her skill, it appears Arte did have contemporaries in the Renaissance period, they were rare indeed and faced numerous challenges.  Four of these women (there were more) produced the stunning self portraits below as well as other great works and were encouraged in their chosen metier.

The book shows the challenge also between young and old, between youthful idealism and middle age fear, the daughter unafraid to pursue her dreams, life has yet to disappoint her greatly, she believes in her own determination, while the mother has lost her protector and her chance to change her own life, so wishes to use the daughter to allay her own fears, to protect her from disappointment, even if at the expense of destroying her spirit.

Further Reading

Female painters from the Italian Renaissance period

Artemisia Lomi Gentileschi (Rome 1593 – Naples 1652)

Liviana Fontana (Bologne 1552 – Rome 1614)

Sofonisba Anguissola (Crémone 1535 – Palerme 1625)

Elisabetta Sirani (Bologne 1638 – 1665)