When Danielle, who works at Christie’s auction house, finds pieces of ripped painted canvas stored behind other paintings, she thinks she recognizes the style. Danielle’s great-aunt, Alizee, was a painter working alongside Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollack, though Alizee disappeared without a trace during World War II. Defying her bosses, Danielle begins tracing these mysterious scraps, eager to discover whether they were painted by Alizee and what might have happened to her great-aunt.
I have a confession: I’m not often interested in reading historical novels imagining the lives of painters/writers/artists. I understand some people absolutely love these types of books, but for some reason, I’m never able to really get interested in them. So when I heard the premise of The Muralist, I was torn—I absolutely adored Shapiro’s previous novel, The Art Forger, but I wasn’t quite sure this new one was for me. In the end, I decided to give it a chance, and I’m so glad, because I really loved getting to know Alizee.
The novel is divided into two different stories, with the focus on Alizee before America’s entry into World War II. Though she was working in New York as a painter, Alizee’s entire family was back in Europe, and as they were Jewish, it wasn’t exactly a safe or secure time for them. Shapiro does an excellent job balancing history, politics, and character development; I was as intrigued by the art history as I was curious about what Alizee was going to do next.
The politics of The Muralist are very interesting. Shapiro clearly researched the United States’ immigration policies, detailing how difficult the country made it for Jewish refugees to emigrate from Europe. It has interesting parallels, given current world events, and as a result, this novel would make an excellent book club pick. Readers will certainly want to discuss the political aspects of the novel as they revel in the wonderful atmosphere Shapiro has created for the reader.
At times, The Muralist can feel overly busy because Shapiro packs a lot into this novel, but in the end, readers won’t be able to put it down as they race to discover Alizee’s fate. It’s a smart, fun novel, despite the fact that it deals with heavy topics. Fans of art history and historical novels shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this book.
Other books by B. A. Shapiro: