When Matthew Spear, a young curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, meets the lovely Ana Kessler, an art dealer who has inherited an impressive group of pieces, he discovers a prize: the collection includes the Holy Mother of Katarini—a sacred icon long thought destroyed. But while Matthew recognizes the Icon’s value as a work of art, he also discovers that it may carry a far greater significance.
Soon Matthew discovers that he has a strange and more personal connection to the Icon—one that thrusts him into a Byzantine web of death and deception. All involved believe the Icon to be a source of fantastic and inexplicable power, and all were somehow connected to the events that transpired during World War II. As he experiences the peculiar resonance of Icon, Matthew begins to see that the only way out of his entanglement is to discover what really happened in the past. Before he walks into the harrowing situation that will decide who lives and who dies, Matthew will be forced to re-examine virtually every aspect of his life—the loyalties within his family, his feelings for Ana, and even the question of his own faith.
In a stunning debut that spans more than half a century and two continents, The Icon asks us to reach into the very heart of all our questions about faith, power, and love.
|Hanover Square Press
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New York City
The blue sky that had oppressed him for days was gone, replaced by a solid wedge of leaden gray and the sound of rain in the courtyard. He could still make out the towering brown mass that formed the rear of an old hotel, but the wet leaves and branches of the giant plane tree were now beyond his failing sight. The nurse constantly assured him that the tree was still there, and he would accept her word. It had, after all, been there forty years and more, long before he'd moved into these haunted chambers. It would be there after he was gone. This was reassuring.
He had become grateful for the ordinary things that could be maintained in this thoughtless city. It was no longer necessary for these things to last indefinitely. A few more years would do, perhaps less. Better not to think too much about that, his granddaughter kept telling him. Absurd. It was all that he could think about; it was the only thing that made sense to think about. His wife and son were already gone before him. He spoke to no one but the nurse and the girl, when she made time for him, when she wasn't in London, or California, spending his money. He could picture her now, perusing the walls of some slick Santa Monica gallery, striding about in the track-lit backroom, making hasty decisions she could repent at leisure. A Hockney or Thiebaud being wrapped for packing, or else some new, even less talented artist she had just discovered. Abominable. Why had she inherited his interest but not his taste? Where did she put all the pieces she bought? She must have filled the walls of all her flats by now. It couldn't be that she was hanging them on the walls around him, taunting his advancing blindness? No, he didn' think she hated him that much, but he would ask the nurse just the same. Of course, he wouldn't know if she was telling him the truth. After all, she was stealing his books. That was all right; she could have them.
Books had been his solace since childhood. They were an older and, he could now see, a far better love than the paintings, which had become a sad obsession, a bright flame burning up the middle decades of his life. The books never disappointed him. He didn't worry about getting first editions, though he probably had many. He didn't try to keep them pristine, never treated them as objects of art. They were for reading, preferably over and over again. Most of his books had seen hard duty, were well and proudly worn. He wanted what was in them. Not knowledge so much, or wisdom -- every fool chasing wisdom in books, dear God, what idiocy. Stories, which was to say, the chaos of life made coherent, this is what compelled him. Lies, his father had called the novels he read as a boy. Yes, but what beautiful lies, what useful lies in a world of hard, unrevealing truth. Even the biographies, memoirs, essays: Boswell, Augustine, Montaigne, all liars. Who cared? They got at something that was real.
Could it be that he had gone to the paintings, sixty, seventy years ago, with similar expectations, similar needs? He could no longer remember, but it seemed likely. Somehow the values assigned by the world, by men like his father, the wealthy pack that plucked and hoarded, had clouded his mind. He became very good at the acquisition game, ceasing to wonder why he played. He had so many stories, which he remembered telling and retelling with pride, at the clubs in Zurich, or here in New York, tales of triumph, getting this painting from that one, or snatching it out from under the nose of that other one, his vanquished opponents sometimes sitting at the same table with him, laughing with him. The dilettante, the banker who could outduel the craftiest dealers. And the stories were always about the deals, never about the paintings.
Yet surely that wasn't right. That was an oversimplification. Club talk had no bearing on his private impulses; the two were unrelated. He had loved the works he had collected, of course he had. There was no other explanation for the choices he had made. Love, not greed, had compelled the decisions that hounded his conscience. It was the only logical explanation. It was his only hope for forgiveness, that he had acted out of love.
He pressed the familiar button on the arm of the chair and sensed the bell ringing in the nurse's quarters below. She might at least tell him which volumes she was taking, but that would be a confession, of course. How to let her know that he didn't mind? He could even direct her to which titles might best suit her limited intelligence. As long as she was reading them, or giving them to friends. God, what if she were selling them? That would be hateful. No, if she were selling them she would have to be stopped.
The books. He could no longer see the words well enough to read, not even in the large-print editions. His granddaughter used to read to him, poetry mostly. She had a mannered delivery, but he suffered it to hear her beautiful voice, to hear her say anything at all. Recently, all he heard was the distraction in her tone, the moment's hesitation when he asked her to read him this or that passage, and so he told her to stop. She protested, but he understood that she was relieved. Anyway, he seldom saw her anymore. Something had changed, she could no longer be the same old girl with him. The nurse was a miserable reader; only the Bible inspired her. He tried the books on tape, but it was impossible, some heinous actor's interpretation of a text he couldn't even grasp. So, no more books ...The Icon
A Novel. Copyright © by Neil Olson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.