“An eerily beautiful novel of artistic ambition and a woman’s struggle to be at home in her skin.”
–O, The Oprah Magazine
“The Tattoo Artist was a fever dream from which I did not wish to wake.” –Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones
Ciment's notable new novel (after Teeth of a Dog) narrates the vanguard life of a New York surrealist artist whose 30 years among South Pacific natives teaches her the sacred art of tattooing. Born at the turn of the century to Jewish immigrants, freethinking Sara escapes her seamstress job via Philip Ehrenreich, a banker's son turned Marxist revolutionary who moves her into his Greenwich Village flat and introduces her to the New York art scene. They make a fabulous avant-garde couple until the New York art world goes bust in the run-up to WWII, and they take off for the South Seas in search of native art. Marooned on the island of Tu'un'uu, the castaways find their love tested when the natives forcibly tattoo their faces. Eventually, with no hope of escape, tattooing each other with the gorgeous dyes becomes a mournful expression of love and loss. After Philip's untimely death, Sara becomes an elder craftsman of the religious art, rendering herself "a piece of living tapestry." Three decades later Sara returns to New York after a roving Life magazine reporter discovers her on the island and photographs her, revealing her curious life's work to the world. Though historically fantastic, Ciment's latest is poignant and anthropologically intriguing. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A tattoo artist brings to mind a young man in a slightly seedy shop on the wrong side of town, but Ciment's heroine, Sara Ehrenreich, is far removed from that vision. Born to Jewish immigrants at the turn of the last century, Sara is an avant-garde artist in 1920s New York who marries Philip, a disaffected anarchist. Financial need and a taste for adventure compel them to accept a commission to voyage to the South Sea Islands in search of masks. Marooned there, they are blamed for a catastrophe among the native people, which leads to a most unusual punishment: their faces are tattooed. Sara and Philip must confront their new selves and lives, of which tattoos become an important form of expression and documentation. Thirty years later, when Sara returns to New York after meeting a Life magazine crew on the beach, her body is a canvas of her art and past. Shifting back and forth in time, Ciment's arresting new novel (after The Teeth of a Dog) allows readers to explore how events affect who Sara is and what she truly values. Clever and complex, the narrative probes how personal stories and symbolism are represented in-or, in this case, on-the self. Not to be missed; highly recommended.-Caroline Hallsworth, City of Greater Sudbury, Ont. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Ciment (Teeth of the Dog, 1999, etc.) explores the long, strange life of a New Yorker who moves from Dada art to the art of tattooing. Young Sara Rabinowitz, freethinking daughter of Orthodox Jewish immigrants to New York's Lower East Side, finds work as a seamstress in the Ladies Waist Makers' Union and spends her leisure time as a bohemian in pre-WWI Greenwich Village. Sara has a fiery affair with banker's-son-turned-artist/revolutionary Philip Ehrenreich, who introduce her to Marxism and calls her "America's great avant-garde hope." The Depression, however, is hard on the couple, and Philip accepts a commission from a rich Swiss industrialist to scare up primitive art on the South Sea island of Ta'un'uu. Just before the outbreak of WWII, the Ehrenreichs are dumped on the island, where they look pretty ridiculous dressed in finery and offering cheap trinkets for trade. The natives ignore them until a terrible lightning storm kills several of the tribe; Philip and Sara are culpable, the locals conclude, and must endure retribution by having their faces tattooed. Thus begins Sara's grisly and eventually liberating transformation, from a being whose scarred face "can no longer convey any sentiments of her own" to a revered elder tattoo artist whose craft brings to the surface the true self. Sara roughs it on the island for 30 years and might have forgotten New York altogether if a crew from Life magazine hadn't arrived on the beach one day. A curious work that moves back and forth in time and place. Somewhat far-fetched and slender, but unique and weirdly imaginative.