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The Chrysalis

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A Novel

Written by Heather TerrellAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Heather Terrell


List Price: $6.99


On Sale: May 15, 2007
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-345-50029-8
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group

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Haarlem, Holland, seventeenth-century: The city’s chief magistrate commissions a family portrait from Dutch master painter Johannes Miereveld. But when the artist sees the magistrate’s daughter, Amalia, an illicit love affair begins. Miereveld creates a captivating masterpiece, The Chrysalis–a stunning portrait of the Virgin Mary, full of Catholic symbols, that outrages his Protestant patron and signals the death of his career.

New York, present day: Mara Coyne is one high-profile case away from making partner at her powerful Manhattan law firm, and now the client that is sure to seal the deal has fallen into her lap. The prestigious Beazley’s auction house is about to sell a lost masterwork, The Chrysalis, in an auction that is destined to become legendary. Standing in the way, however, is the shocking accusation that the painting belongs not to Beazley’s client but to Hilda Baum, the daughter of a Dutch collector who lost his paintings–and his life–to the Nazis.

The case brings an unexpected surprise when Mara discovers that Beazley’s in-house attorney is Michael Roarke, a man for whom she once had an intense attraction. But the same skills that make her a brilliant litigator also make Mara suspicious, and she begins to believe that Hilda’s tragic family story might be more than just heartbreaking–it might be true. And the man she’s come to love might not be who she thought he was at all.

Spanning centuries and continents, The Chrysalis is a brilliant, intelligent, fast-paced thriller that melds art and history into a provocative work of fiction. From the underground Catholicism in seventeenth-century Holland to the unspeakable crimes of the Nazis and the repercussions that reverberate to this day throughout the art world, Heather Terrell has created a fascinating story that will entrance readers to the very last page.

From the Hardcover edition.



Berlin, 1943

The train bound for milan snakes into the berlin station, sending billows of steam high into the station’s skeletal rafters. Its whistle pierces the night once and then recedes. Silence reclaims the cavernous space, broken now and then only by the slow, steady scraping of a sweeper’s broom.

The sweeper has learned not to stare openly at the horrors that pass through the station. He knows to keep his own counsel and inhabit the shadows. Yet he watches, head bowed, from beneath the brim of his cap.

Track by track, click by click, the train comes to a stop. In the last car, a couple sits facing each other. They wait without moving, framed like portraits by the window’s ruby curtains. Their incandescence defies the heavy, quiet darkness, and the sweeper slows his pace.

He considers the woman first. A station lamppost throws her proud profile into bold relief against the dark cabin corners. The low light catches the folds of her silk persimmon dress and the ermine trim of her traveling jacket and cloche hat. He shakes his head at the decadence of her clothes and calculates the loaves of bread her ensemble could fetch on the black market. Then the sweeper shifts his attention to the man, whose overall deportment seems more respectful of a wartime journey than the woman’s. He has a naturally engaging round face, but he is dressed somberly in a charcoal suit, simple black overcoat, and fedora. His right hand clutches a worn brown envelope so tightly his knuckles shine white, and the jagged points of a yellow star peer out from his coat. The sweeper supposes that both must understand the precariousness of their travel.

Suddenly, the door to the compartment swings open with a jolt, and the man and the woman spring to their feet. The sweeper steps back into the safety of the shadows.

Flaxen boy-soldiers swarm around the couple. Their black uniforms gleam with gold buttons, and every jacket boasts the slash of red swastikas. The sweeper knows that these are not the usual station militia, and he jumps when their gloved hands cut across the compartment to take the man’s tickets.

Then the boy-soldiers part to let a decorated officer come forward.

The official leans closer to address the couple. He hands over a document with a fountain pen and demands the man’s signature; the officer wants the man to surrender something. Lowering his eyes, the traveler shakes his head. Instead, the man relinquishes his precious envelope, his hand trembling as he presents it to the officer.

The officer holds the envelope up to the cabin light, then slashes it open and scrutinizes the letter within. He stuffs the letter back into its envelope and returns it to the man. The officer and his soldiers pivot and depart, shutting the cabin door sharply behind them.

The train whistle cries out again, and the couple returns to their seats. A cautious smile curls on the corner of the man’s mouth, but the sweeper turns away in despair. He has seen the boy-soldiers hard at work. He knows that when the train pulls away from the station, the last car will remain.

From the Hardcover edition.
Heather Terrell|Author Q&A

About Heather Terrell

Heather Terrell - The Chrysalis

Photo © R. Alan Adams

Heather Terrell is also the author of The Chrysalis and The Book of Kildare. A lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms and for Fortune 500 companies, Terrell is a graduate of Boston College and of the Boston University School of Law. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

Author Q&A

Interview with Heather Terrell, author of The Chrysalis

Question: The path taken by the painting that gives your novel its title is a circuitous and even tortured one, and the same is often true of the paths that bring first-time novelists into print. Tell us about yours.

Heather Terrell:
I began writing The Chrysalis more than ten years ago, while working as a lawyer at a large New York City law firm. Because my hours were long and intense, I had to squeeze in the writing and research an hour or two at a time over a long period. Then I had to stitch those discordant bits and pieces together into a novel.

Q: I’m sure that wasn’t the end of the story. . . .

Though it took me many, many years to finish The Chrysalis, I was very fortunate that my agent was willing to take me on as a client fairly soon after I completed the manuscript. She and I worked on the draft for quite a few months, and then she submitted it to a handful of publishing houses. Within several weeks, I received the wonderful news that Ballantine was interested.

Q: Did your training as a lawyer come in handy while writing the novel? Were there times when it got in the way?

My legal training was indispensable as I delved into the case law and legal issues surrounding stolen artwork–in particular, the artwork looted by the Nazis during World War II–upon which I based the plot. That same education proved an impediment as I attempted to achieve the proper historical setting and tone for the seventeenth-century Dutch and World War II story lines. Law school and lawyering itself trains you to focus on every last detail, so not getting lost in the historical minutiae was a challenge.

Q: I worked at many law firms after I first moved to New York, and over the years I began to feel that a lot of lawyers have writers inside them, aching to get out. What is it about lawyering and fiction writing that coincides so strongly?

Legal issues often present moral quandaries for the parties and the lawyers. This provides riveting material for fiction, particularly when the inherently dramatic courtroom setting forms the backdrop.

Q: Your novel features three interwoven story lines set respectively in the present day, in 1943, and in the mid-1600s. The past sections are written in the present tense, while the present-day section is written in the past tense; this seems counter intuitive at first. Why not use the past tense for the past and the present tense for the present?

I decided to use the present tense for the past scenes in two primary reasons. First, I wanted the historical sections to feel timeless, and to me, the present tense conveyed that better. Second, I am intrigued by the idea that history and art resonate in our everyday lives, in ways of which we may be unaware, and it seemed as though the present tense could bring the historical scenes forward in time to further that concept.

Q: Is Johannes Miereveld a composite figure? What went into your literary portrait of this fictional artist, and what led you to set this part of the novel in seventeenth-century Holland?

Johannes Miereveld is a fictional character, though my reading on the education, painting techniques, marketing and selling practices, and living habits of seventeenth-century Dutch painters in general lent elements to his character and life. Certainly the biographical details of the incomparable Johannes Vermeer were of particular interest given his Catholicism, though it impacted him very differently than it impacted my fictional Miereveld. The decision to set this story line in seventeenth-century Holland derived mainly from my reverence for the artwork of that time period: the quality of the light, the near-photographic attention to detail, and, most of all, the layers of symbols. I was captivated by the idea that the painting’s symbolism would determine its ultimate destiny, and the iconography of the Dutch paintings–with the hidden stories beneath the deceptively simple scenes–seemed perfect.

Q: What about the painting itself, The Chrysalis? You describe its details with such feeling and specificity that it's hard to believe it doesn't really exist.

I wish the painting existed! I needed a painting with multifaceted symbolism–of a personal nature and a religious one as well–to drive the plot and move the painting through history in a particular way. I looked and looked, but while some paintings had relevant elements or symbols, no existing painting told each of the stories I hoped to share. So I had to create The Chrysalis.

Q: Are you a painter yourself?

No, I have never done any painting myself. Obviously, I’m in awe of those artistic skills.

Q: What kind of surprises did you encounter in your research into the trade in artwork stolen by the Nazis? Is the fictional situation of Hilda Baum an unusual one?

I was surprised by the frequency with which Hilda Baum’s situation occurred. The Nazi machine targeted the art collections of many families, leaving survivors to track down and recover the looted artwork on their own with limited means and resources. Just like Hilda Baum.
Q: In your research, did you get the sense that the art world today is doing a better job in policing itself and avoiding the kind of trafficking in stolen art that occurred during and after World War II?

Absolutely. In the years since I started writing The Chrysalis, the issue of plundered artwork during wartime has become headline news, particularly when looted art turned up in the collections of world-class museums. Subsequently, the art world– museums, auction houses, and art-focused organizations, among other institutions–has begun to put protective measures in place to police itself and to better engage in the restitution process regarding questionable artwork already in their collections.

Q: Talk about adding insult to injury: I was shocked to learn that U.S. law makes it so difficult for Holocaust survivors and their families to regain possession of property stolen by the Nazis. How did that come about? And has there been any attempt to change what certainly seems like a grossly unfair law?

HT: Families of Holocaust victims filing civil suits deal with some of the issues faced by Hilda Baum, largely because the pertinent case law did not anticipate the horrors of the Holocaust. As with the art world, however, some courts and legislatures are making efforts to rectify the inequities in the law. That said, I did streamline the issues, fictionalize the legal precedent, and heighten the difference between the relevant American and European law both for dramatic tension and to make the legal questions more interesting and accessible.

Q: First-time novelists often write about themselves and their own lives. Like Mara Coyne, you are an attorney, and like her, you worked for a high-powered New York firm. How much of an alter ego is Mara?

I certainly drew on my experiences as a lawyer to create–hopefully–a realistic world for Mara Coyne to inhabit. Other than that, Mara is a fictional character, though I would hope if I were ever “called to rise” as she is, I would achieve her heights.

Q: At least initially, Mara is faced with a conflict between her moral compass and the letter of the law. Have you faced that kind of conflict in your legal career? How do you deal with it?

Fortunately, I have never faced the kind of moral conflict Mara does. In fact, the idea for The Chrysalis originated from a query about just such an ethical quandary. After a particularly grueling workweek, a close friend and associate asked me: Would you ever decline to represent a client on moral grounds, even though the client had a solid legal basis for the position it wanted to advocate? In the ensuing months, her question stayed with me, until I came upon an article describing the emergence of a few cases in which families of Holocaust victims attempted to recover artwork stolen by the Nazis. After some research, I had an answer: If I was asked to represent a client in its efforts to keep artwork from a Holocaust victim’s heirs, I hoped I would decline, even if precedent supported the client’s arguments.

Q: Do you plan to maintain dual careers, as a writer and a lawyer?

I am currently taking a break from practicing law to focus on my next book. I’ve always been fascinated with history, art history and archaeology, and I have found it so fulfilling to pair those passions with the law through writing. One day, though, I might return to the practice of law.

Q: In your author's note, you drop a few clues about your next book. Could you elaborate a little on what you're working on?

Yes. A world map is uncovered, then promptly stolen, from an archaeological site outside of Xi’an, China, and Mara Coyne is hired to find it. The archaeologist claims that he unearthed a fifteenth-century Chinese map memorializing the voyage of Ming dynasty admiral Zheng He–in which he circumnavigated the globe and discovered America in the 1420s, seventy years before Christopher Columbus. The search for the map puts Mara in an ideological, legal, and political race–between the Chinese, who want to use the map for their agenda, and the Americans and Europeans, who fear the ramifications of the revision of history. Woven into Mara’s story is the tale of the gifted mapmaker who accompanied Zheng He on the voyage and created the map. The fleet returned to China to find the Emperor dead and the country turned inward, with all records of naval journeys ordered destroyed. The novel also includes the narrative of the Portuguese mapmaker who accompanied Vasco da Gama on his famous journey around the tip of Africa to India and who may–or may not–have had information about the Chinese discoveries as his guide.

From the Hardcover edition.



Advance praise for The Chrysalis

“Quick, sure images, tight storytelling, solid suspense. A tense and vivid tale.”
–Steve Berry, author of The Alexandria Link

“Fascinating history and assured storytelling make The Chrysalis one of those rare thrillers that both entertain and intrigue. This is a terrific debut!”
–Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author of The Mephisto Club

“Flemish art, Nazi skullduggery, and American money–in The Chrysalis, Heather Terrell follows the path of a famous painting through an important period of history that must not be forgotten, and interweaves the stories of three centuries into a dark cocoon of intrigue and suspense.”
–Katherine Neville, New York Times bestselling author of The Eight

“Only someone who feels a real love for art and the power of justice could have written a book like this.”
–Javier Sierra, New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Supper

From the Hardcover edition.

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