Review of The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan
After reading The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro, I immediately purchased a Kindle copy of her book The Muralist, and read it on my Kindle Fire. I have a feeling that this book, The Muralist , is one of the best books I have read this year. The story is about art, especially art during World War II, when painters like Pollock, Krasner, and Rothko evolved a new form of art altogether, which is termed Abstract Expressionism. For those of you who are familiar with this very famous form of artistic expression, this is certainly a book you should pick up and read. Those of you, who are also fans of art or artists, should definitely read this soul searching book, which is itself a work of art. B.A. Shapiro has merged the tale of the evolving of Abstract Expressionism, with the tale of Alizée Benoit, whose family is stuck in France due to problem of getting visas to America. They want to flee France, their homeland, because they are Jews, and believe that Hitler will take over France. The family of Alizée Benoit, flees France with a impressive number of other Jewish refugees, most of them innocent children, on the ship SS St. Louis, to Cuba and from there to the USA. However, once the ship reaches the shores of America, they are not allowed to dock, and are literally and metaphorically turned back to Europe, to their death, or as Alfred Lord Tennyson would put it, into the Valley of Death. This happened, because the US President and his Assistant Secretary of State Long, felt that that their applications for visas were not acceptable. They did not wish to take on the responsibility of housing refugees, especially Jewish refugees, for they wanted no part of the war in Europe, they did not trust the refugees, and lastly, they were most concerned that these refugees would take up all the jobs in the US, which rightfully belonged to the American citizens. (Now, where have I heard that before???) The story, which is gripping and intense, gives us a glimpse of the USA of the late 1930s and early 1940s, as well as the story of Danielle in 2015, who is trying ways and means to find out what happened to her family, the Benoit’s, during World War II, and how Alizée Benoit had a major role to play in Abstract Expressionism of the ‘30s and ’40s. The novel is racy but a tearjerker in parts. The characters are more than real, and the plot is tight with no loop holes. The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro, speaks to the readers soul, and shows us that at times, we are, or find ourselves, so helpless to save our loved ones, that even something as small as a painting or a mural is used to tell the deaf, mute, and blind world, about pain, grief, and death — meaningless death. Alizée, is a very strong character in this novel, and for those readers who love strong female characters in their books, this is the book for you. I am an Indian, born in the late ‘80s, so I am technically not so familiar with contemporary World War II and American History, and the heroes and villains of this part of history. Nevertheless, B. A. Shapiro explanation in the form of a fiction novel is so easy to comprehend, that I began to appreciate many people I came across in this book, especially people like Varian Fry and Eleanor Roosevelt. You must read this book as soul tonic. Watch out for Shapiro’s depiction of Eleanor Roosevelt, as you are definitely going to love it. It goes without saying, that if you as a reader are interested in a different and unique novel, which is part non-fiction, set in the time of World War II, then this is a book you should read. For those of you who have been and are being persecuted for your beliefs, beliefs which do not harm anyone, then this book is soul curry for you, to know that you are not alone. The Muralist is evocative and mesmerizing. The book poses a lot of questions to us, questions that are uncomfortable and need to be answered, questions about morals and ethics versus politics and selfishness. One question cut me to the core: Do innocent refugee children, who have come to seek shelter in your country, look like political spies to you? I had to cry, because I am proud of my country, India, who is definitely like a Mother, for she accepts everyone who comes to her for help. There is a saying in India, that you will find a duplicate of everything, except a duplicate of Mother India. We have given shelter over the ages, and over centuries, to Jews, Christians, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, etc., and now they are as much a part of India, as the original Harappan people were. I am proud of my country — Are you? All these questions can be answered in The Muralist, through its characters, and history and art behind its evolution into a work of perfection. Though I have read a number of books, both fiction and non-fiction, about the Holocaust and World War II, this was the only one to bring a lump to my throat, as it dealt with something that is part of the horrible present. Alizée, Henri, Danielle, Babette, and others, come alive to you through the pen of the master literary artist B. A. Shapiro. It questions, it entertains, and it paints — most importantly, it paints. A must read for everyone, but especially for those writers, artists, poets, journalists, etc., who are being persecuted for expressing their right – their right to freedom of expression. I loved this book. Buy it. NOW!
Copyright ©2017 Fiza Pathan
Review of The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro