Zelda, an expatriate from America in Amsterdam, desperately wants to get into a graduate program in museum design in The Lover’s Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson. However, Zelda’s background gives her a low chance of getting into the program until her adviser recommends her as an intern for an exhibit on stolen Nazi art meant to help reunite looted art with its true owners. Helping the exhibition copy edit its website is not exactly her idea of a great internship, but she gets excited when a woman comes forward to claim a relatively cheap painting called Irises. Rita explains that the painting was named after her oldest sister while painted by the sister’s first love. But being a Jew, he got sent away to a concentration camp and Iris became a hunted woman, so Rita’s father sent his wife and daughters to America. His last letter to the family indicated that he had found a hiding place for his priceless art and had paid the rent on their home for the next five years. Then they never heard from him again. In joy, Rita is thrilled to be reunited with the portrait of his sister last seen over 70 years ago.
In joy over this occurrence, the museum announces the first reunion between art and owner at its exhibit’s opening, but the next day a new claimant steps forward to say that Rita does not have the right to the painting but that instead Rita’s father sold the painting to the new claimant’s grandfather. Karen, the widow of a New York tycoon, and her lawyer explain that Karen only just learned from her mother on her deathbed that her mother’s real father was Arjan van Heemsvliet, killed a couple months after his wedding to his pregnant wife, who escaped to America and married a man who gave the baby his own name. But that makes Karen the true claimant, and she has the gallery ledgers to prove it.
The proprietor, Huub, wants to award the portrait to Karen immediately, but the project manager, Bernice, insists on doing at least minimal research into the claim. With all the research department on vacation after a long and exhausting period of preparing for this exhibit, the only one left to do any work is Zelda, who is thrilled to get to do real research. This leads her into plenty of legitimate research but also poorly judged initiative that she takes.
This book gripped my interest through the entire course of listening to it. I really enjoyed the details of all the research into the provenance of art as well as all the periodic flashbacks to Amsterdam 1942, in the middle of the war. It made the realities of those living through the war become so much more vivid. The details of the characters’ natures came through interestingly as well.
Carol Purdom performs the audio edition of this book and helps to keep the book moving very quickly. She reads in a comfortable voice that enlivens the book and kept me listening nonstop to the book.
I was highly impressed by The Lover’s Portrait. I’m not interested in art in general, but that did not prevent me from being drawn to this book. Further, I only noticed halfway through that this is the second book in a series, but that wasn’t even apparent from the book. I give this incredible book five stars!
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