Stolen Beauty, about Gustav Klimt, is my favorite kind of historical fiction.
Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published 2017, 320 pages
I found this title on a "Little Known Books" list on Twitter (as evidenced by only 397 reviews for a book published in 2017). This is maybe my favorite kind of historical fiction and I'm really glad I noticed the title on the Twitter feed! Well researched and based on true events, this is a story about the artist Gustav Klimt and one of his patrons, Adele Bloch-Bauer. It's the story of how his famous gold-dressed portrait titled Judith and the Head of Holofernes and Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer in the early 1900s came about.
Yes, Klimt figures prominently in the story and I learned a lot about his process and the type of art he produced, but really, it's about the women. Told in alternating storylines, Adele in the 1900s as a young woman striving for freedom from the traditional female roles and pushing her husband to support the arts and her eventual affair with Klimt. The second storyline takes place 40+ years later and is led by her niece, Maria, at the beginning of WWII as the Nazis invade Austria and Maria and her new husband must escape Vienna.
Alternating Storylines are Terrific
The sumptuousness of wealthy living in Vienna at the turn of the century is vividly drawn. As Adele realizes her life path will be different from her friends, she turns to the arts and modern ideas of the era. She has a deep thirst for knowledge of art, philosphy, and literature and she begins to hold "salons" where friends would gather to discuss the events, politics, and new ideas of the day. She, and her husband, come to be recognized as true patrons of the arts. However, anti-Semitism begins to rear its ugly head and circumstances become tense.
Maria's storyline is also a strong, unnerving, emotional telling of the rise of Nazism in Vienna, how the family loses their business, money, and possessions, and ultimately about trying to flee their city. Though this is not an unusual storyline, Albanese relates it so well that it feels fresh. Maria remembers the influences of her Aunt Adele - her encouragement to be strong, to read and be inquisitive and think broadly.
Two strong women in extraordinary circumstances made for excellent reading. I loved Adele's story and how she became the muse for some of Klimt's most famous works. I also loved Maria's story and her struggle to survive and ultimately to reclaim the family legacy. I never felt like the story dragged or didn't make sense. All the events were tied together beautifully. Both story lines are engrossing and the women believable and I want to be their friends! An excellent book for book clubs to explore.
photo of Klimt artwork via wikipedia