Thursday, January 14, 2016

Review: The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro (audio)

Title: The Muralist
Author: B.A. Shapiro
Narrator: Xe Sands 
Published: November 2015, High Bridge Company / Algonquin Books
Length: 9 hours 9 minutes / ARC Paperback 352 pages
Source: Audio - Library / ARC - Publisher


From the author of the New York Times bestseller The Art Forger comes a thrilling new novel of art, history, love, and politics that traces the life and mysterious disappearance of a brilliant young artist on the eve of World War II.

Alizée Benoit, an American painter working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), vanishes in New York City in 1940 amid personal and political turmoil. No one knows what happened to her. Not her Jewish family living in German-occupied France. Not her artistic patron and political compatriot, Eleanor Roosevelt. Not her close-knit group of friends, including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner. And, some seventy years later, not her great-niece, Danielle Abrams, who while working at Christie’s auction house uncovers enigmatic paintings hidden behind recently found works by those now famous Abstract Expressionist artists. Do they hold answers to the questions surrounding her missing aunt?

Entwining the lives of both historical and fictional characters, and moving between the past and the present, The Muralist plunges readers into the divisiveness of prewar politics and the largely forgotten plight of European refugees refused entrance to the United States. It captures both the inner workings of today’s New York art scene and the beginnings of the vibrant and quintessentially American school of Abstract Expressionism.

B.A. Shapiro is a master at telling a gripping story while exploring provocative themes. In Alizée and Danielle she has created two unforgettable women, artists both, who compel us to ask, What happens when luminous talent collides with inexorable historical forces? Does great art have the power to change the world? And to what lengths should a person go to thwart evil?

My thoughts: I was fortunate to have gotten an advanced copy of this book at BEA last year and to meet B.A. Shapiro - though very quickly. At the time, I had not read/listened to her previous book, The Art Forger, though I have since, but I knew that she was an author I would come to love and I was right. Now having finished both books, she is definitely going in my must-read author list.

One of the things I love most about reading historical fiction is that I always come away learning something new. And I definitely learned a few new things from this book. I readily admit I am not that on top of the art world, but I still find it fascinating to read about and occasionally enjoy visiting art museums - not that I have a favorite painter or anything, but I do enjoy looking at and can appreciate good art. This book has definitely whetted my appetite for a visit to the museums in NYC and soon! And has left me wanting to read more about Eleanor Roosevelt's role with the artists during the 1940s. I've always wanted to know more about her and was fascinated by the little bit we see her in this book.

I'm a big fan of the dual narrative and loved how it was done in this book. I tend to read a lot of books that use this technique, but when I can still get goosebumps when it all comes together - that tells me it hasn't gotten stale yet. And listening to it, as I did, sometimes adds a different dimension than reading it. That's not to say that reading it wouldn't come off the same way, but for me, the audio worked for this book and it worked very well! 

The characters, both fictionalized and historical, are all memorable, and to me that's what makes a compelling historical fiction book. I don't want a history book - one that is bland and dry, I want a vivid story that is going to keep me engaged and wanting to keep reading, or in my case listening, until I come to the end. These characters spoke to me, came alive to me and some, like Eleanor Roosevelt and the real artists, left me wanting to know more about their lives. 

I've now devoured B.A. Shapiro's two books and cannot wait until she writes her next book...how long is the wait going to be?  

Audio thoughts:
I could listen to Xe Sands all day long...I just love her voice and the way she tells a story. Her voice is spell-binding and completely takes you into the story you are listening to. She did a fantastic job with this book, making it such an enjoyable experience and I cannot wait to see what else I can find that she has narrated. I do hope she continues to narrate B.A. Shapiro's books as I think they make an excellent pairing!!!

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3 comments

  1. Reading your review I think I might like this, although when I first looked I thought only a maybe. Have put it in my Audible wish list! I too am fascinated by E Roosevelt and want to read a book about her or by her, think she has written something.

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  2. Kristin, I enjoyed reading your review. It sounds like a terrific book.

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  3. The blurb on this just sounds absolutely fascinating and I love a dual narrative if it's done right and it sounds like it definitely was. Thanks for the tip about the narrator! I'll definitely have to look for her.

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