Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese– 320 pages
In the dazzling glitter of 1900 Vienna, Adele Bloch-Bauer—young, beautiful, brilliant, and Jewish—meets painter Gustav Klimt. Wealthy in everything but freedom, Adele embraces Klimt’s renegade genius as the two awaken to the erotic possibilities on the canvas and beyond. Though they enjoy a life where sex and art are just beginning to break through the façade of conventional society, the city is also exhibiting a disturbing increase in anti-Semitism, as political hatred foments in the shadows of Adele’s coffee house afternoons and cultural salons.
Nearly forty years later, Adele’s niece Maria Altmann is a newlywed when the Nazis invade Austria—and overnight, her beloved Vienna becomes a war zone. When her husband is arrested and her family is forced out of their home, Maria must summon the courage and resilience that is her aunt’s legacy if she is to survive and keep her family—and their history—alive.
My Review: 4.5 stars
Stolen Beauty is the fascinating story behind the people and place that sparked Gustav Klimt’s infamous artwork, Woman In Gold. I must admit that this fictionalized and well-researched novel wasn’t one I had planned on reading. I had skimmed the non-fiction book, The Lady in Gold, by Anne Marie O’Conner, after watching its brilliant film adaptation with Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren. Honestly, I thought I’d had enough of the story; I even visited the piece of art at the Neue Galerie in New York City. It wasn’t until another reviewer/friend urged me to read it and convinced me it’d be worth the time. Many thanks to her for leading me to this novel.
Albanese melds her research and imagination into a captivating story. The reader is transported to the humble Austrian countryside as well as the war torn streets of Vienna. Vienna is drawn out as her own character as we see her in her glory as a progressive, cultural city and then again, when she’s annexed into Nazi Germany.
The two main protagonists are fierce, independent and strong women, each within their own time period. Adele is finding her independence, exploring her sexuality and discovering art and what it means to the world at large. While Maria, years later, is trying to save her immediate family by escaping the ravages of war and then protecting her aunt’s legacy. I absolutely fell in love with the salons that Adele kept. I so wish that they were still in vogue, as the most esteemed scholars would come to your home to discuss art, history, community matters and politics with you and your friends. It sufficed as their evening entertainment and to host or be invited as a guest was the hottest ticket in town.
This book gets into the hearts of the characters. You understand more about Klimt, get under Adele Bloch-Bauer’s skin and can better appreciate Maria Altmann. It offers just enough about the legalities of returning Nazi stolen artwork back to the rightful owners. This book shows, not tells, about the women who inspired the art and ultimately protected the art. There’s no doubt that this will make a fabulous book club discussion choice.