Monday, June 16, 2014

The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal

Set on a single day in the Dutch Golden Age, this engrossing historical novel brilliantly imagines the complex story behind one of Rembrandt's most famous paintings

Commissioned by the Amsterdam surgeon's guild, "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp" was the first major work by Rembrandt to be proclaimed a masterpiece. The novel opens on the morning of the medical dissection, and, as they prepare for that evening's big event, it follows several characters: a one-handed coat thief called Aris the Kid, who is awaiting his turn at the gallows; Flora, the woman pregnant with his child who hopes to save him from the noose; Jan Fetchet, a curio collector who also moonlights as an acquirer of medical cadavers; René Descartes, who attended the dissection in the course of his quest to understand where the human soul resides; and the 26-year old young master himself, who feels a shade uneasy about his assignment. Then there's Pia, an art restorer who is examining the painting in contemporary times. As the story builds to its dramatic and inevitable conclusion, the events that transpire throughout the day sway Rembrandt to change his initial composition in a fundamental way. Bringing to life the vivid world of Amsterdam in 1632, The Anatomy Lesson offers a rich slice of history and a textured story by a masterful young writer.

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published March 11th 2014 by Nan A. Talese 
I wanted to read this book because of the location, Amsterdam - my family background.

Told from multiple pov's, I think 7 of them, you would think this would be rather confusing, but it wasn't at all.  There is the thief himself, Aris the Kid - how did he end up being one handed and at the gallows?  His pregnant lover Flora who will do whatever she can to save him.  Of course there is Rembrandt himself and more (don't want to give too much away here).  Plus there is the current time-period art historian who is examining the painting 'The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp.

I really enjoyed this book, a look into how the painting (could have) come into existences.  The attention to details were very clear and precise making it easy to visualize location and living conditions during that time period.

It isn't a long book, only 288 pages but an engaging debut by Nina Siegal that will appeal to art and historical fiction readers.

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