Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Woman Who Heard Color, by Kelly Jones

I am so very, very glad that I accepted The Woman Who Heard Color for review when it was offered. I read devoured the book last week. For me, it ended up being one of those books that make the rest of life feel somewhat like an interruption. You just want to be able to sit down and find out what happens!

The Woman Who Heard Color originally piqued my interest because it is set in World War II which, if you are a regular around here, you know that's my favorite time period in history to read and learn about. This book focuses on the fictional story of Hanna Fleischmann, a young German woman who moves to Munich prior to the war and begins working for Moses Fleischmann, a Jewish art dealer. When Hanna first moves in with the Fleischmanns, she works as a maid. The story progresses as Hanna begins to develop an acute love of art while living and working in this Jewish home. She takes a greater interest in art while working as the personal maid to Mrs. Fleishmann, eventually taking on responsibilities in the art gallery. Hanna then marries Moses after the death of his wife and the bulk of the story focuses on her life post-marriage.

The Woman Who Heard Color opens in New York City in 2009. We meet Lauren O'Farrell, an art detective who is trying to locate art pieces which were stolen from their rightful Jewish owners from the Nazis during World War II. Lauren is focused on finding certain pieces which may or may not have been stolen by Hanna Fleischmann, under Nazi rule. Because Lauren's role in the book is to uncover the mystery that is Hanna, I could very easily get into spoilers if I offer too many more details about this book.

Suffice it to say - I absolutely loved this read! I loved the way it went back and forth from the years leading up to the second world war and 2009. I liked how it bounced back and forth between Lauren and Hanna. I love how it wove history together and offered explanations as to why Hitler hated "modern art" and had so much of it destroyed during his reign of terror. Reading The Gathering Storm, by Winston Churchill, alongside The Woman Who Heard Color made the story come alive for me as I was familiar with dates, locations and events that Jones talks about and discusses in her book. It is a mesmerizing tale and one I'm not soon to forget!

As it did deal primarily with the subject of art, I'll offer the disclaimer that there is quite a bit of focus during the first 1/3 of the book with the subject of Hanna posing nude at an art gallery. I read through the first third of the book cautiously, wondering if I was going to be able to recommend this read to regular readers of Reading to Know. I would have to say that I ultimately walked away not thinking the worse of anything mostly because I thought Kelly Jones handled the subject remarkably well. She doesn't offer gratuitous details about any of Hanna's actions throughout the book. (There is an issue of an affair, also handled in as clean a manner as you could wish for.) Jones states facts without offering the full portrait, if you will, of what's happening. This allowed me, as a rather conservative reader, to keep on reading and stay engaged with the story. I understood what was happening but Jones wrote in such a way that didn't cause me to imagine too much.

The flip side of the issue of Hanna posing nude is that, if you are involved in the art world, you probably would not be offended by the idea of anyone posing nude. The argument that is made in this book is that artists need to learn how to draw the human form. While I personally don't feel like an artist must look at a nude model to do that, there's your argument for it. I won't go into that in any more detail, because Jones didn't and I appreciated her choice to be more discreet while telling her story. It's there, but I didn't get hung up on it. Still, I feel it should be mentioned.

On another interesting note, Kelly Jones focuses quite a bit on the artist Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian painter. Hitler did not like Kandinsky's works because they could not be easily understood by the common man. Make what you will of that, Hitler had quite a lot of art destroyed during his time. Among pieces that were destroyed were several of Kandinsky's works. Most notably, perhaps, were several pieces of Kandinsky's Composition series. In The Woman Who Heard Color the question is posed as to whether or not Kandinsky's Composition II actually survived the war. The book was therefore fun to read from a perspective of the world war and also took a look at what art is, what it was and how it has been viewed by people throughout history. Here's a picture of a "sketch of Composition II" which I found online:

Here's a brief description of Composition II. I tried to find out whether or not this painting actually did survive the war, but every article I found indicated it had been lost and only the sketch remained. (Here is a brief article about the Composition series which mentions that Compositions I, II and III were destroyed.)

As I said, I thoroughly enjoyed The Woman Who Heard Color. I'd also heartily recommend it. It's simply fascinating. It is fiction and fact woven together in a glorious manner, telling an interesting story and giving the reader pause. Loved it. Definitely one of my favorite reads this year!

Therefore I am completely 100% excited to say that I have been given permission to give away one copy of this amazing story. To win? Simply leave a comment below including a valid e-mail address. This contest is open to U.S. Residents only and will be open through Wednesday, November 2nd.

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. THE WINNER (as selected by IS #21 - Amy @ A Faithful Journey. Congrats!

Thank you, Penguin Group, for shooting a copy of this my way AND for your generosity in offering a copy to one of my readers!


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

This sounds like a must-read for me! Sign me up! (Sigh. Does the #1 commenter ever win?!?)

Amber said...

This sounds so good!! I want to win! :-)


Annette W. said...

I think I would enjoy...and then share with my artist sister. drerekannette at gmail dot commed

Audrey said...

Wow, all names starting with "A" have commented so far. And I am another one!

When I hear that a book takes place during WWII my interest increases about 300%. And the incorporation of of art and mystery makes it sound even more intriguing.

I have to admit, though, if I won this I would probably put a different cover on it if I wanted to leave it laying around my house! :)

Katie said...

I love books about art and history! I would love to win! schroederkatie at comcast dot net.


Sky said...

As I was reading your review I was thinking how much I wanted to get a copy! I hope I win!
It sounds exciting and vastly interesting. I think I would have to it read alongside the Gathering Storm as well.

Bluerose said...

I think this one will end up on my November list! :)

bluerosesheart at yahoo dot com

Diary of an Autodidact said...

Yet another thing Hitler and Stalin had in common: a dislike for music too "unintelligible" for the "common man". I suspect that, in addition to their silly condescension, neither spent much time with children.

My 2nd daughter took and early liking to Stravinsky - she responded to the music, even if she clearly had no ability to "understand" it.

Likewise, certain modern art has always appealed to my kids. Abstraction may appeal to the intellect; but, if well done, it appeals on a visceral level as well. Even a "common" child can understand that.

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite time period to read about, also. (

Shonya said...

Ooooh, this sounds good!!!! Since I recently finished Unbroken and agreed with your review 100%, I"m even MORE excited to read this one! :)

bekahcubed said...

I'm pretty much hyperventilating here. This sounds aMAZing. Then again, I've got a little something for historical fiction set during WWII--the stuff that made me into a "history person".

Sherry said...

OK, I'm interested, too. Maybe if I win, reading this book will intersect with our study of World War II in my twentieth century history class.

Melody said...

History, detective that's all you had to say. I'm in.


Jean said...

Thanks for the opportunity to win! jjmail4 at yahoo.

Anonymous said...

Kkirkwoo at geneva dot edu

karenk said...

a wonderful posting....i would LOVE to read this novel...thanks for the chance :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Stephanie Kay said...

I'm not much of a modern art lover either. I like my art to have recognizable figures but just because it's not my cup of tea doesn't mean it should be destroyed - unless it's vulgar, in which case it is no longer art.

Sounds like an interesting book and one that would be good reading on plane over the holidays. :)

Dizneluver said...

sounds intriguing :)

Can't wait to read...esp if I win :-)

A Faithful Journey said...

This sounds like something I would REALLY enjoy...especially since I, too, love reading about all things World War II!

Thanks for the chance to win!


Alison said...

Really curious about this book since you loved it.

Heather said...

This sounds like such a great book to read! And if you enjoyed it, I'm sure I would too! I love books that are based in older time periods. Personally, I favor the time periods before (up to) the French Revolution and also LOVE the period of King Henry the VIII.

I really enjoy reading books like this and would love to read this one!

Anonymous said...

As an art history minor, this sounds fascinating! Will see if the local library has a waiting list for it.

jrswanda at cox dot net

Heather VanTimmeren said...

I can't say that I care for the cover art, but the story sounds interesting.
histtheo1 AT yahoo DOT com

Anna said...

No need to enter me, as I already have a copy. Just glad to see you enjoyed it despite some initial reservations. I will link to your review on War Through the Generations.

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