The Marriage Artist: A novel, by Andrew Winer, is an incredible literary feat, in my opinion.
The novel is a a brilliantly composed saga of two stories that alternate within the pages. It is a book with broad and deep expanses, beginning in current times, and sweeping back to Vienna, beginning in 1928.
The stories blend magically, with the magnificent word-imagery of Winer.
In the present, we have Daniel Lichtmann, a well-respected art critic. His positive, stunning and admiring critiques of the native American, Blackfoot sculptor, Benjamin Wind, has made him (Wind) famous.
The novel opens with the bodies of Wind and Lichtmann’s wife, Aleksandra, laying on the sidewalk in front of a New York City apartment building. By all accounts, it looks as if they plunged from the terrace. From there, the suspense begins, as the reader is taken on a trip through time, as Lichtmann tries to discover whether his wife was having an affair with Wind, whether they committed suicide together, or somehow fell off the terrace.
Daniel is committed to uncovering what actually led up to the tragic event. Through is efforts, he uncovers information regarding his wife, information he didn’t know. He also uncovers information regarding Wind, his background and his artwork, and how his own critique of Wind’s last exhibit may have been far-removed than the actual reasoning behind it.
The next chapter begins in 1928, a time of uproar and persecution towards the Jews, with ten-year old Josef Pick, as he visits his grandfather Pommeranz, in the less than desirable Jewish section of Vienna. The Pick family has converted to Catholicism in order to avoid the repercussions of being labeled Jewish. While there Josef becomes enthralled with his grandfather’s business of creating ketubot (prenuptial marriage contracts) for those who are looking to have a creative and ceremonial document of the groom’s rights and responsibilities concerning the bride.
Josef’s father is with him, and much to his dismay, watches as his son tries to create a ketubah of his own. The final result is one that brings awe to his grandfather Pommeranz, and causes him to use Josef’s talent to earn extra money for his own needs and debts. What transpires after that is nothing short of incredible, as the reader is taken on Josef’s journey of artistic development and creation with his amazing talent, one that brings him recognition in the world of art. Winer infuses the pages with the defining imagery, defining moments of the ravages of war. The journey continues through Josef’s adult life, through the days of the Holocaust and the antisemitism spewed at the Jews.
The story line had me thinking about the title, and alternate meanings. Aside from a ketubah, a marriage artist could be one who is creative in their own lives, one who tries to manipulate their marriage. A marriage artist can also be one whose exterior is superficial and contrary to their innermost feelings. After all, an artist is not just one who paints, draws, creates beautiful documents or etches on paper. An artist can be defined as so much more than that in the realm of daily life.
The Marriage Artist moves forward and moves backward in the time continuum, and in history’s darkest hours. I was engulfed in the book, and could not put it down. I read it straight through, except for small breaks to eat, etc. I was mesmerized and absorbed with Winer’s use of beautiful and sensitive language. It was so beautiful that I was in awe of his prose. There were moments that I was emotionally caught up in the folds of this page-turner of a story.
Andrew Winer is masterful at telling the tale of The Marriage Artist, and brilliant at blending families together. It is a lovely, sensitive and poignant story, one filled with the affects of assimilation, love and loss, and effects of lives caught in the maelstrom of evil, leading to an epiphany towards redemption.
The novel is one of educational and historical value. The drama and the intensity that is displayed is something that I feel should not be missed. It is a compelling read. I highly recommend The Marriage Artist to everyone.
November 26, 2012 – 12 Kislev, 5773
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Forgive the update, I had to correct something that I missed.