Pub. Date:
Lisette's List

Lisette's List

by Susan Vreeland


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Thursday, October 28


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

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812980196
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/23/2015
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 154,286
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 5.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Susan Vreeland is the New York Times bestselling author of eight books, including Clara and Mr. Tiffany and Girl in Hyacinth Blue. She died in 2017.


San Diego, California

Date of Birth:

January 20, 1946

Place of Birth:

Racine, Wisconsin


San Diego State University

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.

Reading Group Guide

Provençal Dishes Mentioned in Lisette’s List
Find a variety of recipes for these delicious meals by looking online or in your favorite cookbooks.
daube: A ragout of beef, tomato, orange peel, carrots, onions, and red wine.
Chapter 8
He asked me to prepare daube for him on Saturday. His voice was pleading, almost like the whine of a child. I had to ask him what it was.
“A traditional Provençal dish, sort of a beef ragout simmered with red wine. It has orange peel and tomato and carrots and those little round onions. Pick some rosemary for it. Cézanne would have eaten it on a Saturday too.”

boeuf à l’arlésienne:
A stew of cubed beef with white wine.
Chapter 9
“What’s that garlic for?” he asked.
“Wrong time. It’s an early winter dish. Wait until November.”
I would use tomatoes, onions, and green olives instead of orange rind, and anchovies, and white wine instead of red, and I would call it boeuf à l’Arlésienne instead of daube.

cassoulet béarnais:
A casserole made with mutton, pork, andouille sausages, and white beans.
Chapter 10
I prepared his favorite dish, cassoulet béarnais.

pain fougasse:
The flat bread of Provence, which has versions in Italy, Catalonia, the Balkans, and Hungary. The Provençal version often has olives, anchovies, or dried fruit. It is often slashed to resemble an ear of wheat or a leaf.
Chapter 10
I bought pain fougasse, a flat olive loaf, which he loved, and I asked René to make some palmiers, André’s favorite pastry. We fed morsels to each other just as we had done in Paris when he called me his perfect lily.

Often called “elephant ear,” this flat, flaky, buttery pastry is drizzled with honey. Versions can be found in Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and even China. I love them so, I had to have Lisette ask René, the boulangère, to make some before André went off to war, in Chapter 10.

gratin d’aubergines:
Roasted eggplant with cheese and often tomatoes.
Chapter 13
Most unexpected, Madame Bonnelly, a stout woman with thick arms whom I had never met, brought a gratin d’aubergines, an eggplant-and-tomato pie garnished with bread crumbs.
“Keep up your strength, dear,” she said.

salade niçoise:
A salad originating in Nice that traditionally includes green beans, potatoes, bell pepper, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, canned tuna (usually in a lump in the center), and anchovies marinated in oil and vinegar. It’s easy to make for a summer book club meeting.
Chapter 18
By August, I had gathered my first harvest from the ladies of my garden: Thomassine and her sisters, the tomato plants, whose small green marbles had swollen into plump red hearts; Claudine and her row of amply endowed sisters, the cauliflowers, billowing like white thunderclouds; Celeste and her siblings, tall and stately, trying to befriend the sky by stretching their pale green stalks and leafy crowns; Lutèce and her court, standing erect like queens unfurling their ruffled green robes; Beatrice and her friends, who kept their secrets below the surface in purple balls with root tails; Caroline and her maidens, so shy they grew their orange roots downward while shaking their green frizz in the joy of clean air; Bérénice and her cousins, who hung their pendulous green tubes until they were ready for a salade niçoise.

chevreau provençal:
With apologies to Geneviève, this is goat, roasted with garlic and herbs.
Chapter 19
Months later, Geneviève’s belly and teats grew large and her udder firm. One morning I came out to see two baby goats suckling hungrily. When they were large enough, after three months, I gave them to Louise and Maurice. One by one Louise roasted them, chevreau provençal style, with garlic and herbs. Toughening myself, I ate two hearty meals at their house. I was becoming reconciled to the ways of the country.

pistou à la provençale:
Vegetable soup.
Chapter 19
“Ah, the French cuisine, so delicate and savory.” He ladled out a bowlful, pulled out a chair and sat at the table facing me. Waiting for it to cool, he put his feet, in muddy boots, on a chair to the side and drummed his fingers on the table. When he began spooning the soup into his mouth, I fumed at his sense of entitlement.
“Not bad, madame. What do you call it?”
“Pistou à la provençale.” I exploded my “p’s” at him as if they were bullets.
“Pistou à la provençale,” he repeated, gently mocking me.
He lit a cigarette.
“If you refuse to tell me, I will be forced to tell my captain, who has a ravaging hunger for art, and a rough way about him.”

fricassée arlésienne:
A chicken ragout.
Chapter 20
Kooritzah stopped laying altogether. Knowing I could not bring myself to eat her, Louise told me that I should give her away for food. That hit me hard. Kooritzah had become a friend. Sadly, I did as Louise directed, and pictured Maurice enjoying Louise’s fricassée Arlésienne with onions, garlic, eggplant, and white wine.

sanglier chasseur:
Roast boar. I doubt that you can find a boar roast in your local supermarket, but a gourmet épicerie might have boar sausage.
Chapter 23
“Be a man! Hunt me a boar!” Madame Borieman would demand. “I’m dying to prepare sanglier chasseur aux herbes de Provence, hunter-style with mushrooms, shallots, and white wine.”

Corsican soup.
Chapter 27
We hurried back downhill the distance of five houses and found him calmly spooning minestra, Louise’s thick Corsican bean and vegetable soup, into his mouth.

Almond-flavored candies, often formed in the shape of fruits. The making of marzipan is featured in Chapters 28 and 29.
thirteen desserts: They are served on Christmas Eve, just a morsel of each, for taste. Discover them in Chapter 29.
tournedos à la Rossini: Small beef tenderloins.
Chapter 32
At Au Petit Riche, the bistro near the opera, Lisette, Maxime, and Héloïse eat “small beef tenderloins topped with slices of artichoke hearts covered with sauce béarnaise and garnished with a round of butter-fried goose liver.”

truite meunière aux amandes:
Eaten at Café Le Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris.
Chapter 34
The trout arrived browned in butter under a scattering of toasted almond slices, complemented by white asparagus and potato sticks pont neuf, arranged like a bridge over a river, and garnished with a stuffed tomato and a radish tulip, dramatically composed, an art form framed by the wide gold embossed edge of the white china.

poulet fricassée:
Chicken cooked in a casserole with small whole onions, carrots, celery, and mushrooms in a lemon-and-nutmeg sauce.
Bernard serves it to Lisette in Chapter 35.
He served us both poulet fricassée with small, whole onions, carrots, celery, and mushrooms in a lemon-and-nutmeg sauce. I ate ravenously.
francesco: A sweet, breadlike pastry with fruit in the top, for eight people.
Chapter 42
“Odette and René came in, each of them carrying a francesco.

1. Why did the novel need to begin with Lisette meeting Pascal? How was he an important presence throughout the novel and an influence on Lisette’s deepening character?

2. What were the differences in the qualities that Lisette appreciated about André and Maxime? Did these differences affect her love for both of them? How?

3. As Lisette becomes more comfortable in Roussillon, what does she find in it that she likes, or even loves? As a reader, did you want her to make this adjustment, or were you holding out for a complete and speedy return to Paris? If she had moved back to Paris right after the end of the war, what would she have lost in addition to the paintings?

4. Why is Lisette so conflicted about Bernard? What allows her even to speak to him? Since every gift he gives her has consequences, should she have rejected and destroyed each one as she does the stockings? What did you think of Bernard? Did you sympathize with him?

5. Should Bernard have been punished for his actions during the war and removed from his post? In your opinion, did his motives in siding with the Occupiers justify his stance? At one point Lisette says, “I could charge you not just as a thief but as a collaborator.” Why doesn’t she? Do you consider André’s mother, Héloïse, to be a collaborator? Why or why not?

6. In Chapter 23, Maxime speaks at length about what makes a painting great. Do you agree with his assessment? Is there any criterion that he overlooks? Select a painting you love by any painter and apply Maxime’s criteria to it. What insightful observation about life or the world or yourself does the painting offer you?

7. How do the peripheral characters—Maurice, Sister Marie Pierre, Héloïse, Louise, Odette, Madame Bonnelly, Aimé Bonhomme—complement one another in influencing Lisette?

8. The letter by Marc Chagall to the artists of Paris is historically accurate except that it mentions the cause of Bella’s death. What effect does this letter have on Lisette, not just in terms of her emotional reaction but also on her subsequent thinking and -actions?

9. In what way does Lisette’s List of Hungers and Vows differ from the popularized “bucket list” of contemporary usage? What is its purpose for her? Why wasn’t “Participate in the art world in Paris” on her list?

10. In Chapter 16, Lisette considers whether it might be a higher art to invent a painting by assembling elements from one’s heart, as Chagall did, rather than by painting only what one actually sees. She imagines such a painting of her own. What elements of her own life are reflected in her painting? What elements in your life might be reflected in such a painting if you were to paint your own Chagall?

11. What are the biggest lessons Lisette learns throughout the course of the novel? Do they concern art or life? Does learning about art teach Lisette to live a fuller life? Or does living a fuller life teach her to better understand and appreciate art?

Customer Reviews