Lisette's List

Lisette's List

4.5 4
by Susan Vreeland, Kim Bubbs

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From Susan Vreeland, bestselling author of such acclaimed novels as Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Luncheon of the Boating Party, and Clara and Mr. Tiffany, comes a richly imagined story of a woman’s awakening in the south of Vichy France—to the power of art, to the beauty of provincial life, and to love in the midst of war.

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From Susan Vreeland, bestselling author of such acclaimed novels as Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Luncheon of the Boating Party, and Clara and Mr. Tiffany, comes a richly imagined story of a woman’s awakening in the south of Vichy France—to the power of art, to the beauty of provincial life, and to love in the midst of war.
In 1937, young Lisette Roux and her husband, André, move from Paris to a village in Provence to care for André’s grandfather Pascal. Lisette regrets having to give up her dream of becoming a gallery apprentice and longs for the comforts and sophistication of Paris. But as she soon discovers, the hilltop town is rich with unexpected pleasures.
Pascal once worked in the nearby ochre mines and later became a pigment salesman and frame maker; while selling his pigments in Paris, he befriended Pissarro and Cézanne, some of whose paintings he received in trade for his frames. Pascal begins to tutor Lisette in both art and life, allowing her to see his small collection of paintings and the Provençal landscape itself in a new light. Inspired by Pascal’s advice to “Do the important things first,” Lisette begins a list of vows to herself (#4. Learn what makes a painting great). When war breaks out, André goes off to the front, but not before hiding Pascal’s paintings to keep them from the Nazis’ reach.
With German forces spreading across Europe, the sudden fall of Paris, and the rise of Vichy France, Lisette sets out to locate the paintings (#11. Find the paintings in my lifetime). Her search takes her through the stunning French countryside, where she befriends Marc and Bella Chagall, who are in hiding before their flight to America, and acquaints her with the land, her neighbors, and even herself in ways she never dreamed possible. Through joy and tragedy, occupation and liberation, small acts of kindness and great acts of courage, Lisette learns to forgive the past, to live robustly, and to love again.

Praise for Lisette’s List
“Vreeland’s love of painters and painting, her meticulous research and pitch-perfect descriptive talents . . . are abundantly evident in her new novel.”The Washington Post
“This historical novel’s . . . great strength is its lovingly detailed setting. . . . Readers will enjoy lingering in the sun-dappled, fruit-scented Provençal landscape that Vreeland brings to life.”The Boston Globe
“A pleasurable opportunity to learn something about art, history . . . and to enjoy a plucky heroine who grows in ways she never thought possible.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Mesmerizing . . . Vreeland’s passionate writing is as good as a private showing at the Louvre.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An entrancing novel of joy and heartache . . . Vreeland provides the reader with a broad spectrum of emotions.”The Free Lance-Star

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Vreeland follows Clara and Mr. Tiffany with a lyrical paean to Provence, painting, and the timeless cycle of death and rebirth. In 1937, 20-year-old Lisette Roux must leave her beloved Paris to live with her husband André in the south of France, where they will care for his grandfather, Pascal, in tiny Roussillon. Provincial life is challenging in all but one respect. Lisette has always wanted to work with art, and Pascal, a former artists' pigment salesman, has collected seven extraordinary paintings as well as many tales of artists, which he is eager to share before he dies. His insistence on doing what is most important before it's too late inspires Lisette to create her own list of essential "hungers and vows." Soon after his passing, Germany occupies France. Before leaving to fight, André hides the paintings—Pissaros, Cezannes, and a possible Picasso—in a location he doesn't disclose in fear for Lisette's safety. The years that follow bring small privations, huge losses, the search for the scattered paintings, and the slow resurgence of hope. Early on, Vreeland's narrative lacks compelling suspense or drive, but it picks up once the war begins and the paintings are lost. The novel's heart is its patient interweaving of sensuous, meticulously observed details with themes of forgiveness, female strength, and survival. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
“[Susan] Vreeland’s love of painters and painting, her meticulous research and the pitch-perfect descriptive talents that distinguished such books as Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Luncheon of the Boating Party are abundantly evident in her new novel.”The Washington Post
“[Lisette’s List] great strength is its lovingly detailed setting, a mountaintop village—‘like some fantasy kingdom from a child’s folk legend, altogether dazzling’—whose charm gradually enwraps the reader just as it does the initially resistant Lisette. . . . Readers will enjoy lingering in the sun-dappled, fruit-scented Provençal landscape that Vreeland brings to life.”The Boston Globe
“Part romance, part historical fiction, part travelogue, part art history text . . . Vreeland knows her art, she knows Provence, and she’s done her historical homework. . . . Lisette’s List offers its readers a pleasurable opportunity to learn something about art, history and ocher, and to enjoy a plucky heroine who grows in ways she never thought possible.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Mesmerizing . . . Vreeland’s passionate writing is as good as a private showing at the Louvre.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An entrancing novel of joy and heartache . . . Vreeland provides the reader with a broad spectrum of emotions.”The Free Lance-Star

“The novel’s heart is its patient interweaving of sensuous, meticulously observed details with themes of forgiveness, female strength, and survival.”Publishers Weekly
Lisette’s List is heartfelt, loving and lovely, and asks difficult questions beautifully.”Shelf Awareness

Library Journal
Since the elegantly conceived The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Vreeland has written a string of best sellers that typically blend art and history with strong character study, and her new book is no different. At the time of the Vichy regime, a young Parisian ends up in Provence, caring for her husband's grandfather. Through the works of Cézanne, Pissarro, Chagall, and Picasso, she uncovers the glories of Provence despite wartime hardships. Not just art history, this book evokes key ethical questions, including the currently timely question of art stolen during World War II. With a West Coast tour.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-07-17
Une jolie Parisienne in Provence during the turbulent World War II years comes to understand love and great art to the core of her being. In a sweeping historical novel set in Vichy, France, Lisette Roux, a 20-year-old bride who longs for "window-shopping, cabaret hopping, gallery gazing," grudgingly moves out of Paris to the rural south to take care of her new husband André's aging grandfather in 1937. "How are we going to survive in a town without a gallery?" she asks in dismay. But Pascal is not your ordinary grandpère: An ochre miner-turned-pigment salesman, he befriended young, unappreciated painters and amassed a collection of Cézanne, Pissarro and Picasso paintings. After Pascal dies, the loving couple is cast out of an Edenic existence following the German invasion of France. André enlists to fight the Nazis and meets a tragic end midway through the book. Lisette's short stay in Provence stretches out more than a decade, prolonged by the war and her determined attempt to find Pascal's pictures, which André hid for safekeeping before going to war. Lisette's sensibility deepens as she grows closer to former prisoner of war Maxime Legrand, André's fellow soldier and best friend. Marc and Bella Chagall, hiding in Provence because they are Jewish, show up for a brief but blazing cameo appearance. Vreeland, who has proven in earlier art-themed best-sellers that she has an exquisite eye for detail, is enormously talented at establishing the important societal role of art, particularly relevant here as the Nazis both steal and burn it. While her prose can get a bit fluffy ("apricot trees blossoming with pinkish-white petals like flakes of the moon") and the book wraps up a tad too tidily, her deeply researched novel is mesmerizing.Merveilleux. Vreeland's passionate writing is as good as a private showing at the Louvre.

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Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
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5.10(w) x 6.00(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Road to Roussillon


Amid the crowd of travelers darting in front of the Avignon train station, the delivery boys on ancient bicycles swerving between children and horse carts, and the automobile drivers honking their horns, André stood relaxed, eating an apple from a fruit stand. Meanwhile, I paced in a tight circle around our carpetbags, our valises, and our crates filled with everything we could take with us from our apartment in Paris, plus the tools from his workshop, plus the dream of my life sacrificed.

“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” I asked.

“Yes, Lisette.” André plucked a broad leaf off a nearby plane tree and laid it on a cobblestone. He touched my nose with his index finger and then pointed to the leaf. “He’ll park right there. On that cobblestone. Just watch.” He squeezed my hand. “In the south of France, things happen as they should.”

But apparently in the south of France, buses didn’t operate on schedule, as they did in Paris. Nor did the light have the same effect as it did there. Here, the light singed the eye, wrapped itself around edges, intensified colors, ignited the spine. If it were otherwise, I would not have recognized the loveliness in a bare square that was not Paris, but there it was—­a shimmering watercolor of fathers and grandfathers sitting under the plane tree, their white shirts blued by the cornflower sky, which found openings in the foliage, the men eating almonds from a paper bag, passing it from one end of the bench to the other and back again, perhaps talking of better days. They looked content, sitting there, while I withdrew my hand from André’s and made another senseless circuit around the modest pile of our belongings, feeling his gaze following me.

“Look at them,” André said in a low voice. “All members of the Honorary Order of Beret Wearers.” He chuckled at his own invention.

Eventually a boxy little bus, a faded relic once painted orange beneath its rust, sputtered to a stop, the right front wheel crushing the leaf on the cobblestone. André tipped his head and gave me an excusably smug but tender smile.

The stocky driver bounded down the steps, nimble-­footed, pointing his toes outward as weighty people do to keep their balance. He hailed André by name, reached his thick arm up to slap him on the back, and said he was glad to see him.

“How’s Pascal doing?” André asked.

“He gets around all right most days. Louise takes him his meals or he eats with us.”

The driver bowed to me with exaggerated courtliness.

“Adieu, madame. I am Maurice, un chevalier de Provence. A knight of the roads. Not, however, Maurice Chevalier, who is a knight of the stage.” He sent André a wink. “Your wife, she is more beautiful than Eleanor of Aquitaine.”

Foolishness. I would not fall for it.

Had he said Adieu? “Bonjour, monsieur,” I responded properly.

I was amused by his attire—­a red cravat above his undershirt, the only shirt he wore, which dipped in front to show his woolly chest; a red sash tied as a belt; his round head topped by a black beret. Black hair curled out from his armpits, a detail I could have done without noticing, but I am, thanks to Sister Marie Pierre, the noticing type.

He placed a hand over his fleshy bosom. “I deliver ladies in distress. Enchanté, madame.”

I gave André a doleful look. I was in distress that very moment, already missing the life we had left behind.

“Vite! Vite! Vite!” The driver circled his arm around our bags in three quick movements, urging us to move quickly, quickly, quickly. “We leave in two minutes.” Then he was gone.

“One vite was enough, don’t you think?”

With a wry twist of his mouth, André said, “People in Provence speak robustly. They live robustly too. Especially Maurice.” André began loading our bags and crates. “He’s a good friend. I’ve known him ever since I was a boy, when Pascal used to take me to visit Roussillon.”

“What’s the red sash for?”

“It’s a taillole. It signifies that he’s a native son, a patriot of Provence.”

We waited ten minutes. Two men took seats in the back of the bus. Soon I heard robust snoring.

Our self-­proclaimed chevalier finally scurried back. “Sorry, sorry. I saw a friend,” he said, working every feature of his round face, even his wide nostrils, into a smile of innocence, as though having seen a friend naturally justified the delay. He pumped up the tires with a hand pump—­robustly, I observed—­and started the engine, which choked in resistance, then lurched us ahead under the stone arch spanning the ramparts and out into the countryside to the east.

The road to Roussillon between two mountain ranges, the Monts de Vaucluse to the north and the Luberons to the south, kept me glued to the window. I had never been to the south of France.

“Stop here!” André ordered. The bus came to a shuddering stop and André hopped out, plucked a fistful of lavender growing wild along the roadside, climbed back in, and presented it to me. “To welcome you to Provence. I’m sorry it’s not in its full purple bloom yet. In July you’ll be astonished.”

A sweet gesture, sweet as the fragrance itself.

“How far is it to this Roussillon place?” I asked the driver as we started down the road again.

“Forty-­five beautiful kilometers, madame.”

“Look. I think those are strawberry fields,” André said. “You love strawberries.”

“And melons,” Maurice added with a nasal twang. “The best melons in France are grown right here in the valleys of the Vaucluse. And asparagus, lettuce, carrots, cabbages, celery, artichokes—­”

“Yes, yes,” I said. “I get the idea.”

He would not be yes-­yessed. “Spinach, peas, beets. On higher ground, our famous fruit trees, vineyards, and olive groves.”

He pronounced every syllable, even the normally mute e at the ends of some words, which made the language into something energetic, decorated, and bouncy instead of smoothly gliding, as it is in Paris.

“Apricots. You love them too,” André said. “You are entering the Garden of Eden.”

“I see one snake and I’m taking the next train back to Paris.”

I had to admit that the fruit trees, laden with spring blossoms, exuded a heavenly fragrance. The grapevines were sprouting small chartreuse leaves, wild red poppies decorated the roadside, and the sun promised warmth, so welcome after a frigid winter in Paris.

But to live here for God knows how long—­I had more than misgivings. For me to surrender the possibility of becoming an apprentice in the Galerie Laforgue, the chance of a lifetime for a woman of twenty with no formal education, had already caused resentment to surface in me. When André had made what seemed an impulsive decision to leave Paris and live in a remote village just because his grandfather had appealed to him to keep him company in his failing health, I’d been shocked. That he would so easily abandon his position as an officer of the Guild of Encadreurs, the association of picture-­frame craftsmen, a prestigious position for a man of twenty-­three, was inconceivable to me.

I had gone crying to Sister Marie Pierre at the Daughters of Saint-­Vincent-­de-­Paul, the orphanage where I had been raised, complaining that he was shortsighted and selfish, but she had given me little sympathy. “Judge not, Lisette. See him in the best light, not the worst,” she’d said. And so here I was, bumping along in clouds of dust, despairing that I wasn’t in Paris, city of my birth, my happiness, my soul.

Following Sister Marie Pierre’s advice to try to see the situation in the best light, I ventured a possibility. “Tell me, monsieur. Does this town of yours have an art gallery?”

“A what?” he screeched.

“A place where original paintings are sold?”

He howled a laugh from his belly. “Non, madame. It is a village.”

His laughter cut deeply. My yearning for art was nothing casual or recent. Even when I was a little girl, this longing had been a palpable force every time I stole into the chapel of the Daughters of Saint-­Vincent-­de-­Paul to look at the painting of the Madonna and Child. How a human being, not a god, could re-­create reality so accurately, how the deep blue of her cloak and the rich red of her dress could put me, a young orphan without a sou to my name, in touch with all that was fine and noble, how such beauty could stir something in me so deep that it must have been what Sister Marie Pierre called soul—­such things drenched me with wonder.

André jiggled my arm and pointed out a cluster of red geraniums spilling over the window box of a stone farmhouse. “Don’t worry. You’re going to like it here, ma petite.”

Because of geraniums?

“Certainement, she will,” Maurice chimed in from behind the wheel. “Once she becomes accustomed to les quatre vérités.”

Four truths? “And what might they be, monsieur?”

“You see three of them right here.” He took his arm off the steering wheel to wave vaguely at the countryside, apparently able to drive and listen and talk and gesture all at once. Presumably that was a skill of living robustly. “The mountains, the water, the sun.”

True enough. The sunlight made the snow on the peak of a mountain to the north blindingly white. It shone on a river to the south in dancing specks of brilliance and turned the canals into iridescent silver-­green ribbons.

“And what’s the fourth, monsieur?”

“It can’t be seen, and yet its mark is everywhere.”

“A riddle. You’re telling me a riddle.”

“No, madame. I’m telling you a truth. André, he knows.”

I turned to André, who tipped his head toward the window and said, “Think and look. Look and think.”

I studied the landscape for some mark.

“Does it have to do with those stone walls?” They were actually only remnants of walls, piles of flat stones forming barriers nearly a meter thick, some with wayside niches for figures of saints, I presumed, although I hadn’t seen any.

“No, madame. Those were built in the Middle Ages to keep out the plague.”

“Not a comforting thought, monsieur. Neither is that scraping noise. Is there something wrong with your brakes?”

“No, madame. You are hearing the sound of cigales. Insects that make their mating calls when the temperature gets warm.”

Definitely something I would have to get used to. Thickly planted cypress trees lined the north sides of the vegetable fields. Their pointed shadows stretched toward us like witches’ gray fingers.

Looking from side to side, I noticed another peculiarity. “Why don’t the houses on the right side have windows facing the road, while the ones on the left side do?”

“Now you’re thinking. Look. They all have windows on three sides, but not on the north.”

But why? Did the sun glare through north windows too strongly? No. It would shine from the south, giving light to only half of the house. The other half would be dark and gloomy.

When I asked André for a hint, he told me to look at the roofs. They were terra-­cotta tiles, long, tubular, and overlapping. Flat stones had been placed at their northern edges.

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Lisette's List: A Novel 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's a great book, what more can I say ?
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Less is more if you expect buyer. This is a borrow and let library cull it if readers are in short supply