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Posts Tagged ‘Susan Vreeland’

Reader’s Guide: LISETTE’S LIST by Susan Vreeland

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 3.26.45 PM We’re recommending Susan Vreeland’s Lisette’s List, so if you or your book club choose it for a fall selection then be sure to enjoy these book club discussion questions!

1. Why did the novel need to begin with Pascal? How was he an important presence throughout the novel and an influence in Lisette’s deepening character?

2. What were the qualities that Lisette appreciated about André? About Maxime? Did this difference affect her love for both of them? How?

3. As Lisette was becoming more comfortable in Roussillon, what did she find in it that she liked, or even loved? As a reader, did you want her to make this adjustment, or were you holding out for a complete and speedy return to Paris? If she had moved back to Paris right after the end of the war, what would she have lost in addition to the paintings?

4. What made Lisette so conflicted about Bernard? What allowed her even to speak to him? Every gift he gave her had consequences. Should she have rejected and destroyed each one like she did the stockings? Were all the gifts similarly motivated and did they reveal the same qualities in Bernard? Was he wholly a bad man?

5. What constraints made finding the paintings take so long? How did Lisette’s changing emotional state contribute to the delay?

6. Was Héloïse a collaborator? Should she have been punished? Should Bernard have been punished? Should he have been removed from his post? In your mind, did his motives in siding with the Occupiers justify his stance? At one point in the revelation scene between Bernard and Lisette, she said, “I could charge you not just as a thief, but as a collaborator.” Why didn’t she? Do you respond differently to Bernard and to Héloïse?

7. With Maxime’s experience in the art world, he spoke at length in Chapter Twenty-three about what makes a painting great. Is there any criterion that he overlooked? Select a painting you love by any painter and apply Maxime’s criteria to it. What insightful observation about life or the world or yourself does the painting offer you?

8. How did the peripheral characters—Maurice, Sister Marie Pierre, Héloïse, Louise, Odette, Madame Bonnelly, Aimé Bonhomme—complement each other in influencing Lisette?

9. Consider the theme of articulation and communication. How did the scenes with Maxime and Lisette in the bories introduce this theme? What characters have a problem with communication? Under what circumstances do actions speak louder than words?

10. The letter by Marc Chagall to the artists of Paris is historically accurate except for mentioning the cause of Bella’s death. What effect did this letter have on Lisette, not just in terms of her emotional reaction but her subsequent thinking and actions? What did it enlarge for her? What did it make you realize about the possible loss of France’s art legacy? What would the effect of that loss be on France and French people? On the world?

11. In what way does Lisette’s List of Hungers and Vows differ from the popularized “bucket list” of contemporary usage? What was its purpose for her? Should she have added any hunger or vow that actually motivated her and that was missing? Why wasn’t “Participate in the art world in Paris” on her list? If you were to write such a list for yourself, what items might your list include?

12. In Chapter Sixteen, Lisette considers that it might be a higher art to invent a painting by assembling elements from one’s heart like Chagall did rather than painting only what one actually sees. She imagines such a painting of her own. What elements of her own life are reflected in her painting? What elements in your life might be reflected in such a painting if you were to paint your own Chagall?

13. What did you learn about art and its potential effect? About the region? About the Provençal character? About the war? Any war? Did any of these elements change your thinking?

Happy Reading! And be sure to stay in touch with Susan on her Facebook page!

Author Spotlight: Susan Vreeland, author of LISETTE’S LIST

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Vreeland_Lisette's ListGetting a glimpse behind the story of a novel and an author’s inspiration is always a special treat for us. We love learning about the voyage of a novel. New York Times bestselling author Susan Vreeland gracefully combines her travels, research, and pure passion for her subjects. Her latest novel, Lisette’s List, is on sale August 26, 2014. Today she would like to share some “Inklings of Inspiration for Lisette’s List.”

You may wonder how I came to write this book, so different from my others.

It began with a feeling that in terms of my development as a writer, I must not write another novel centered on one artist, bringing to literary life part of a biography, and expanding into the artist’s friendships and associations. That approach has given me much joy for a decade, but recently I began to feel that it was too constraining. The new book came of a need to outgrow that mode and completely invent for myself, and to devote my imagination to creating characters whom I wanted to embrace.

Roussillon-after-a-rain_crop

Enter a Provence-loving friend who insisted that I see the village of Roussillon in Provence on an upcoming trip across the south of France with my husband. With only two hours there, and with rain deepening the red-ochre and rosy ochre and golden ochre of the village, I fell in love, recognizing this perch of harmonious houses high above ochre cliffs as a treasure of ultimate provincialism. I vowed to come again. And I did, with a novel swimming in my head.

© Susan Vreeland

© Susan Vreeland

It also began, before that trip, with a fascination with Varian Fry, the American who, during the German Occupation of France in World War II, orchestrated the clandestine housing and escape of Jewish artists and writers from the Villa-Bel and Marseille in Provence. Although neither Fry nor the villa nor Marseille appear in this novel, Marc Chagall, one of those escaping painters, does.

The rape of Europe of its art, as it has come to be called*, has disturbed me greatly. That entire nations could be deprived of the art of their native sons and daughters by a ruthless foreign tyrant with no appreciation for any painting beyond the Renaissance, was an injury and outrage I feel keenly. That would provide the historic context, and the passion to carry forward this new work.

ochre-canyons-ll_jan2014-003And grounding my passion, like a seed in my soul, the novel grew from my deep love for France, for the French language, for French art, for Provence, and for the French people who have suffered unspeakably during war and its aftermath and whom I have found to be gracious lovers of beauty.

When I learned that near Roussillon there were ochre quarries and mines from which was extracted the ore which produced pigments in all the warm hues of the color wheel, I had a substantial artistic link to this region beyond mere love.

Art history looks at art works and the people who have created them. But what is it called, that exploration of the people who made the things that are the materials of art? The first thing: the pigments, that bright earth. The last thing: the frame around a finished painting. Both are elements in the novel. Because I knew no word for this area of study, that was the new terrain I wished to enter.

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*Nichols, Lynn, The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe’s Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War. New York: Vintage/Random House, 1994.

For more information, stay up to date with Susan on her website and Facebook page.

Jane’s Bookshelf: Traveling Through the Pages

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

JVMWhat does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @janeatrandom.

A trend here in New York City is the “staycation”, meaning you are on vacation, but aren’t travelling anywhere—at least not physically. It’s a time to do fun things close to home, get a few projects done around the house, and travel in your imagination through the pages of books. Those imaginary journeys are often much more exciting, exotic, and memorable than the trips we can take ourselves.

OrphanMaster PBI began thinking about this when I was reading Adam Johnson’s THE ORPHAN MASTER’S SON. Set in North Korea, this brilliant novel takes you inside this country that so few outsiders have been able to penetrate. Johnson was able to visit Pyongyang while he worked on the book, but as he shares with his editor in the interview in the paperback, he was only able to visit select places in the company of his “minders.” As I read, I was struck by how deeply immersed I was in the culture and characters—especially Pak Jun Do, the orphan master’s son of the title, whose story is chilling, haunting, and very romantic. It reminded me of two other books that take you to foreign lands: LIFE AND DEATH IN SHANGHAI, Nien Cheng’s memoir about China’s Cultural Revolution, and THIS BLINDING ABSENCE OF LIGHT, Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novel about a prison in Morocco where King Hassan II sent his political enemies. These books invite you to experience life under a totalitarian regime, but even more FrenchLessonsimportant to me as a reader, they offer indelible portraits of the strength of the human spirit to survive and flourish with dignity and love.

Of course I realize that most of the time when we travel we want to go someplace that is beautiful, fun, and interesting—and we’re lucky there are lots of books that can take us to the most beloved vacation destinations. If you wish you could travel in Europe may I suggest: FRENCH LESSONS by Ellen Sussman (Paris), PRAGUE by Arthur Phillips (Prague), THAT SUMMER IN SICILY by Marlena de Blasi (Sicily), THE BIRTH OF VENUS by Sarah Dunant (Florence), RESTORATION by Rose Tremain (London), THE KITCHEN BOY by Robert Alexander (Russia), and GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE by Susan Vreeland (Germany and Holland). Of course you may want to stay closer to home: OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout (Maine), THE DESCENDANTS by Kaui Hart Hemmings (Hawaii), LONESOME DOVE by Larry Olive Kitteridge PBMcMurtry (Texas), DANCING AT THE RASCAL FAIR by Ivan Doig (Montana), NEW YORK by Edward Rutherfurd (New York), and SUMMERLAND by Michael Chabon (Seattle, Puget Sound).

I realize I’ve left out large sections of the world on my list of books and places to go. I’d love to hear from you about the books you’ve read and loved about foreign lands that have made you feel as if you’ve been far, far away even if you never left your couch or hammock! And enjoy all of your travels this summer.

Jane’s Bookshelf: Historical Fiction as a Window to the Past

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

JVMWhat does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @janeatrandom.

I’ve been thinking about historical fiction lately. It seems to me that when I was growing up, there were three kinds of historical novels. First were the classics that might have been written contemporaneously to the time they depicted but were historical to a late 20th century reader, whether it was Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE or Sir Walter Scott’s IVANHOE. Then there were the books that explored life in ancient cultures like Mary Renault’s THE KING MUST DIE or Irving Stone’s THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY. And of course, there were portraits of kings and queens of yore in the novels of Jean Plaidy and Margaret George, among others. Today, the classics remain and writers still write these kinds of novels: just this past year saw the publications of THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller, BRING UP THE BODIES by Hilary Mantel, and LIONHEART by Sharon Kay Penman, for example.

ParisWife_hc We’ve also seen the flowering of a different kind of historical fiction. Books like LOVING FRANK by Nancy Horan, THE PARIS WIFE by Paula McLain, and THE 19TH WIFE by David Ebershoff start with the story of real women who have extraordinary men in their lives, whether it be Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Hemingway, or Brigham Young. And yet in the hands of these storytellers, you don’t feel you are reading lives recreated in fiction, but rather that you are meeting women whose stories enlighten our understanding of these men and their lives. That these stories are based on real people’s lives makes the reading experience that much more vivid, and gives us a deep understanding of the human condition, of love and betrayal.

It’s not just women romantically involved with famous men whose lives have made for great historical novels. Melanie Benjamin created an indelible, fresh portrait of Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s novels, in ALICE I HAVE BEEN. Her latest novel THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MRS. TOM THUMB brings to life AutobiographyMrsTomThumbLavinia Warren Bump, who became a worldwide celebrity after marrying General Tom Thumb. Benjamin portrays 19th century America so vividly I often felt I was reading a painting. Sometimes I think that this new era of historical fiction began with two novels that married imaginary characters and real people: GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE by Susan Vreeland and GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING by Tracy Chevalier. Both have Vermeer as the historical figure at their centers; one created the lives touched by an invented painting while the other imagined the life of his servant. I love both—I tried and failed to acquire Tracy Chevalier, but was lucky enough to become first Susan Vreeland’s paperback editor and now work with her from the start of every book.

I’ve found the way novelists intertwine what actually happened with their own fictional worlds adds nuance to a book club discussion. I’ve always loved history and fiction—so historical fiction is perfect for me. I’d love to hear about some of your favorites, I know I’ll want to add them to my T.B.R. pile! Let me know what they are in the comments section below or on Twitter at @JaneatRandom.

Jane’s Bookshelf: A Garden of Books for Spring

Friday, March 30th, 2012

JVMWhat does a publisher at the world’s biggest publishing house read for pleasure? (And how does she find the time?) Jane von Mehren is the Senior Vice President and Publisher of Trade Paperbacks at the Random House Publishing Group. Every now and then, she’ll be featuring her favorite reads in her Reader’s Circle column, Jane’s Bookshelf—books that she thinks you’ll love, whether you read them solo or with your club! And if you’re on Twitter, you can follower her tweets at @JaneatRandom.

Language of Flowers PBMy garden is starting to come to life with some daffodils—“new beginnings”—and purple hyacinths—“please forgive me”—though I’m still waiting for the tulips—“declaration of love”. I learned about the meanings of different flowers from Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s magnificent first novel, THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS. The novel’s heroine, Victoria Jones, is a fiercely independent and guarded young woman who is most comfortable communicating through flowers. From the moment Victoria leaves the foster group home where she grew up and enters the world as an adult, she relies on flowers to help her make her way—first when she works at a florist then to communicate with the man she eventually falls in love with. This beautiful story will have you rooting for this lovely, fragile young woman, needing to talk about the twists and turns in her story, as well as looking at every bouquet with a new eye as you try and decode its message.

Clara and MrTiffanyClara Driscoll, who spent decades working for Louis Comfort Tiffany, also knew a lot about flowers, for she was the designer of many of Tiffany’s most famous lamps—including the Wisteria, Lotus, and Laburnum lamps. Susan Vreeland’s novel CLARA AND MR. TIFFANY tells her story, introducing us to this gifted artist who, like so many women even now, must choose between her profession and her heart. Vreeland gives her readers a fascinating look at how both Clara and Tiffany created these gorgeous works of stained glass as well as the complicated friendship the two shared set against the changing social climate at the turn of the 20th century New York City.

Friendship has also been the core of many of my favorite novels: Khaled Hosseini’s THE KITE RUNNER, Kathryn Stockett’s THE HELP, Jane Austen’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, and Maeve Binchy’s CIRCLE OF FRIENDS. When I asked readers to name some of their favorites on Twitter they reminded me of others: Patrick Dennis’s AUNTIE MAME, John Knowles’s A SEPARATE PEACE, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A LITTLE PRINCESS. On LibraryThing, Ann Brashares’s THE SISTERHOOD OFSisterhood Everlasting THE TRAVELING PANTS was mentioned as the third most tagged book about friendship. I hate to confess that I haven’t read the early books in Brashares’s series, but I absolutely adored SISTERHOOD EVERLASTING, the most recent installment and the first to have been published as an adult novel. The foursome—Tibby, Lena, Carmen, and Bridget—are about to turn 30 and are finding it harder to stay connected to their best pals as men, careers, and families take up more and more of their time—so they decide to take a trip together to cement their bonds of friendship and sisterhood. I can’t, of course tell you what happens, but let’s just say that Brashares’s novel is so emotionally satisfying and heartwarming that you’ll find yourself calling your BFFs just to say I miss you or sending them a bouquet of saxifrage—“affection”—and freesia—“lasting friendship.”

I’d love to hear about your favorite reads about friendship in the comments below or on Twitter at @JaneatRandom.

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