Summary and book reviews of Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

Girl in Hyacinth Blue

by Susan Vreeland

Girl in Hyacinth Blue
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  • First Published:
    Sep 1999, 242 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2000, 256 pages

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Book Summary

The history of a Vermeer painting unfolds through a series of events that trace the ownership of the painting back to the moment of the work's inspiration.

This luminous story begins in the present day, when a professor invites a colleague to his home to see a painting that he has kept secret for decades. The professor swears it is a Vermeer—but why has he hidden this important work for so long? The reasons unfold in a series of events that trace the ownership of the painting back to World War II and Amsterdam, and still further back to the moment of the work's inspiration. As the painting moves through each owner's hands, what was long hidden quietly surfaces, illuminating poignant moments in multiple lives. Susan Vreeland's characters remind us, through their love of this mysterious painting, how beauty transforms and why we reach for it, what lasts and what in our lives is singular and unforgettable.

  • San Diego Book Prize for Best Mainstream Novel
  • Storyteller of the Year Award
  • Theodore Geisl Best Book of the Year Award

Cornelius Engelbrecht invented himself. Let me emphasize, straight away, that he isn't what I would call a friend, but I know him enough to say that he did purposely design himself: single, modest dresser in receding colours, mathematics teacher, sponsor of the chess club, mild-mannered acquaintance to all rather than a friend to any, a person anxious to become invisible. However, that exterior blandness masked a burning centre, and for some reason that became clear to me only later, Cornelius Engelbrecht revealed to me the secret obsession that lay beneath his orderly, controlled design.

It was after Dean Merrill's funeral that I began to see Cornelius's unmasked heart. We'd all felt the shock of Merrill's sudden death, a loss that thrust us into a temporary intimacy uncommon in the faculty lunchroom of our small private boys' academy, but it wasn't shock or Cornelius's head start in drinking that snowy afternoon in Penn's Den where we'd gone...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
INTRODUCTION

"Why does the world need another painting of a woman alone in a room? Or a hundred more paintings?"

"The world doesn't know all that it needs yet," Pieter said, "but there will come a time when another of your paintings of a woman by a window will provide something."

I have a book that I read every year. Over the years it has become a comforting ritual of discovery as I always come away with renewed understanding of my place in the world and the pleasure of visiting old friends. I have a favorite picture, favorite childhood toy, favorite food...the list continues. I know what I like. More importantly, I know what speaks to me. I recognize the familiar warmth that begins to radiate through me, finally touching my ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Extraordinarily skilled historical fiction: deft, perceptive, full of learning, deeply moving.

Publisher's Weekly

Each section is read by a different narrator, some better than others.....still, this is a delightful production. (Refers to the audio version).

Booklist - Veronica Scrol

Reading Vreeland's new book is like opening up a Chinese box: each chapter reveals a new layer of meaning and import.

New York Times

Intelligent, searching and unusual, the novel is filled with luminous moments; like the painting it describes so well, it has a way of lingering in the reader's mind.

Reader Reviews

Velma

A Real Winner
I was mesmerized by this book which tells the history of a painting in reverse time order. The writing style is excellent. I flew through this book in one day and I am now a confirmed Vreeland fan.

Aaron

Alright
The book was extremely hard to follow. I found myself re-reading whole chapters. Overall not a bad book but I was not impressed.

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