THE MURALIST, by B.A. Shapiro, is the newest novel by the NYT best -selling author of THE ART FORGER. Great cover. And a real winner of a story!
It’s 2015. Danielle is seeking information about her aunt Alizée who seemingly vanished from New York City during WW11. Never to be seen or heard from again.
The story races back and forth in time between WW11 and present day: NYC and France.
The very first page got my attention with its artistic intent. Danielle Abrams is working for an auction house in NYC. She’s come across what she thinks might be an exciting find: cartons of canvasses of what could be Abstract Expressionists artwork. She’s mentioning famous named artists and handing out information about their distinctive features. Her heart is pounding as she thinks there is a chance she may have a clue to her aunt Alizée and where she ended up. These artists were involved with the art division of the Works Progress Administration, one of Roosevelt’s New Deal employment programs. It was cancelled without notice and all the work of those artists at the time was disposed of. Shameful.
I didn’t know much at all about abstract art before reading this novel. You do not even realize you are learning so much, since it is the story of Alizée Benoit that you are so fixated on. Alizée is a spirited young, gifted artist painting murals for the WPA in New York City during WW11. Some of her colleagues are real life artists from the time period: Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, William de Kooning to name a few.
I totally fell for the haunted young artist Alizée. She’s beautiful, smart, stubborn, talented to a fault, and is determined to get visas for her French family members so they can escape the boots of Hitler’s army. These visas are all but impossible to get. The story behind them is based on a true part of history. Fascinating. She is wild to get the visas and does everything she can think of to get money to purchase their freedom.
In a chance meeting with Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Alizée is taken under the First Lady’s wing. Eleanor finds the new abstract art beguiling and unique and wants to help the poor artists. It is true that Eleanor Roosevelt helped to create the WPA back in the day. And this part of the story is simply mesmerizing.
Alizée even asks the First Lady for help with the visas. And we find that she is sympathetic enough to try. One of the members of Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet, Breckinridge Long, plays a “bad guy” part in the novel. In real life he is a bad guy. However, Shapiro uses statements he made about keeping visas out of the hands of the Jewish refugees. And these statements point to the horrible truth. Many more Jewish people living in Europe could have been saved and brought to safety to America if only Long had allowed the visas to be used.
Shapiro says she wanted to write about this issue because it is near and dear to her heart. She felt she finally was able to shine a unique light on WW11 without having to delve into the horror of the concentration camps. She decided to use the art set in the Great Depression, and boy does it work.
If you are looking for a novel that is exciting, unique, and filled with great characters and great writing, this is your novel!
My review copy was sent from Algonquin in exchange for an honest review. Thanks so much. I loved it!