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A refreshingly original story that melds historical fiction with a coming-of age narrative, Cullen's novel is a treat for readers who enjoyed Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Seventeenth-century Amsterdam is where we meet Cornelia van Rijn, the daughter of the artist Rembrandt. Cornelia takes care of her driven and tormented father, resentful that he has so little affection for her. But her chores leave her questions unanswered: Why didn't Rembrandt marry her mother, now dead of the plague, instead of sentencing Cornelia to life as an illegitimate child? Why does Rembrandt seem to love her stepbrother, Titus, so much more than her? And why does Neel, her father's pupil, look at her so often?
Cornelia's only escape is through the attentions of Carel, a handsome and wealthy son of a local shipping magnate. Carel, like Cornelia, has his own artistic yearnings and takes an improbable liking to her, which she finds puzzling. But as the story of her life becomes clearer, she learns that appearances can be deceiving.
Rich with detail about the craft of painting, I Am Rembrandt's Daughter delights its readers on many levels -- but don't close the book until you've read the author's note at the end. It's a kind of literary chiaroscuro that illuminates the story, much as Rembrandt's own use of the technique added depth and complexity to his paintings.
(Fall 2007 Selection)
This sensitively sketched first novel paints a compelling portrait of 14-year-old narrator Cornelia and her conflicted relationship with her father, the famous painter Rembrandt. Cullen ably conjures the anxiety and loneliness of Cornelia's position once her beloved older brother marries and leaves her to care for her uncompromising, half-mad father, whose eccentricities (including a belief that God tells him what to paint) bar them from polite society and whose avant-garde painting style and unpredictable temperament keep patrons away and relegate them to near poverty ("The man's nerve is only exceeded by his madness," a frustrated Cornelia vents). The highly atmospheric Dutch setting along the canals and constant threat of contagion from plague outbreaks heighten the tension, but a romantic triangle between Cornelia, her suitor Carel (an apprentice and heir to a shipping fortune) and her father's student Neel provides most of the drama here. Somewhat uneven chapters centered around the paintings focus on the circumstances surrounding the creation of individual works and point toward a secret involving Cornelia's deceased mother and why Rembrandt never married her. Readers may wish that the buildup to Cornelia's own artistic impulses yielded more, but they will cheer for this colorful cast, especially the likable heroine and the understanding and peace she crafts with her father. Ages 12-up. (June)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
VOYA - Cynthia L. Winfield
Teenaged Cornelia, bastard daughter to the deranged yet lauded painter Rembrandt and his late housemaid, tells of living with her aging vader in poverty on Amsterdam's fringes. Cornelia interweaves childhood memories-each corresponding to an actual painting-of a happier time when her moeder lived. A coral necklace, thrown at her by the grief-stricken Rembrandt before her moeder's Plague-ridden corpse is hauled away, serves as Cornelia's talisman, her one link with moneyed classes and her mother. Lonely in her father's hovel after her brother Titus moves in with his rich wife, Magdalena, Cornelia tends to Rembrandt's whims, suffers his somber student Neel, and yearns to be noticed by this painter whose palsied hands prevent him from shaving yet act flawlessly when Rembrandt van Rijn serves as a conduit between God and canvas. A zealous reader, Cornelia shelters books from her father's disapproval; that she has absorbed his entire art history library escapes him, as do her artist's vision and desire. Impressed by Cornelia's substance, her new acquaintance, young Carel, is smitten, but Rembrandt forbids the friendship. Historical fiction, mystery, and romance are masterfully woven, and Cornelia's tale unfolds along the banks of Amsterdam's famous canals, enchanting readers to remain for just another chapter, and then more. Dutch names might slow some readers, but Cullen's rich detail so revives history as to mesmerize most. From seventeenth-century social mores to the timeless thrill of falling in love, Cullen's novel is a reader's delight.
Told in the first person, the tale of Cornelia is achingly familiar: She's a girl child in her mid-teens, angry, passionate, hungry both literally and figuratively and ignored by her distracted but brilliant parent, the great painter Rembrandt. He is a pathetic figure here: listening to the voice of God in his head; making images with thick impasto paint; no longer desirable to his patrons; and ignoring the needs of daily life while Cornelia struggles to meet them. She loves her brother Titus, adored of Rembrandt, but he marries and leaves her alone to care for vader. Cullen uses a few Dutch words for 17th-century atmosphere, but Cornelia's bitterness and longing seem very contemporary. The narrative slips back and forth between past (the death of Cornelia's mother, whom Rembrandt never married) and present, when Cornelia is to leave Amsterdam with her new husband. Cullen uses several of Rembrandt's paintings in effective ways to tether the story, even though her fictional climax has no historical basis. (author's note, character list, list of paintings) (Historical fiction. 12+)