Saturday, February 25, 2012

Color is Music to My Ears

The ability to hear color is not a common occurrence, but the protagonist in The Woman Who Heard Color by Kelly Jones has that very trait, which turns out to be both a blessing and a curse. Her discovery of this ability leads her to a lifelong love of art that brings both pleasure and misfortune.

The beginning of the novel focuses on the meeting between Lauren O'Farrell, an art detective whose vocation is recovering art stolen during World War II, and Isabella Fletcher, a woman whose mother was an art dealer suspected of collaborating with the Nazis. As Isabella proceeds to tell the story of her mother, Hanna Fleischmann, the preconceptions of Lauren begin to change. When Lauren first meets Isabella, she treats her with suspicion and is prepared to condemn her mother for helping the Nazis dispose of the "degenerate art" and making a profit off of it. As the story unravels, Lauren's opinions of Hanna change as she discovers the motives behind her actions. The dynamics between Lauren and Isabella change as well as the two women start off as adversaries but end up bonding after realizing they share much in common.

It was interesting how Hanna's passion for art both enhances her life and also brings grief. She starts off as a household maid to a wealthy art dealer and subsequently discovers her ability to hear colors. The art dealer helps to develop her interest in art and eventually the two become husband and wife. Unfortunately, her expertise in modern art interests the Nazis and she ends up working for them taking inventory and cataloging the so called "degenerate art". She despises working for them but then realizes that she might be able to save some of the artwork by getting it sold to foreign collectors, dealers, etc.

This book would be a good choice for discussion groups as it explores many challenging issues, especially ones regarding art. Questions such as what is art, should government/taxpayer money be used to fund art, who determines what is good art and what is bad art, and was it possible for a person to work for the Nazis and accomplish something noble? The question regarding government sponsored art is still very relevant today as seen in the challenges to art funded by The National Endowment for the Arts.

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