Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland

While idly browsing the shelves of a second hand book store a random book caught my eye. A blue spine and a name, Girl in Hyacinth Blue. As I read the blurb I felt that it probably wasn’t my kind of book. But something made me want to try it anyway.

Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland is the story of a fictional painting by Vermeer. Eight interconnected tales, all linked to the past and the present of this piece of art, are presented in this book.

The eight short tales are Love Enough, A Night Different From All Other Nights, Adagia, Hyacinth Blues, Morningshine, From the Personal Papers of Adriaan Kuypers, Still Life and Magdalena Looking.

The book chronicles the journey of the painting through the ages but the journey is not presented in a chronological way. Its history unfolds in reverse.

The book begins with Love Enough. A math teacher by profession and a loner by choice Cornelius Engelbrecht suddenly reveals to his unsuspecting colleague that he may own a hitherto unknown painting by Vermeer. However, he refuses to disclose where he acquired the painting from, casting a doubt on its authenticity.

A young Jewish girl struggles with the changing times and her own entry in to adulthood during the Second World War in A Night Different From All Other Nights.

In Adagia, a man thinks with tenderness about the lost love of his youth and his long time marriage.

The next story, Hyacinth Blues takes a rather comic look at a rapidly disintegrating marriage of convenience.

The next two stories, Morningshine and From the Personal Papers of Adriaan Kuypers, take place almost simultaneously and are closely linked. A poor farmer’s wife finds an abandoned infant and starts to look for beauty in her own dreary life in Morningshine. From the Personal Papers of Adriaan Kuypers is the story of a young man who falls for a wild, nomadic girl with tragic consequences.

The last two stories, Still Life and Magdalena Looking take us right back to the moment the painting was conceived. Still Life is told from the point of view of the painter while Magdalena Looking tells us about the ‘real’ girl behind the painting.

The writing was very easy to read. It flowed beautifully and the language was elegant. Once I started reading the book I couldn’t stop. I tried to slow down, to enjoy the unfolding of the layered history of the painting. But even with deliberate interruptions I ended up finishing it off in a day and a half.

Among the stories I liked Adagia, Hyacinth Blues, Morningshine, From the Personal Papers of Adriaan Kuypers and Magdalena Looking.

I know a lot of people don’t enjoy short stories. Some may find this book further complicated by the fact that it is told in the reverse. But that is the beauty of the book. That is what made this interesting for me. I wanted to see what happened before this and what led the painting to this house or to the hands of that person.

All the people who came in contact with the painting, living their lives throughout the intervening centuries from the inception of the painting to its present circumstance, were profoundly touched by it. All of them took away something different from it. That is what I really loved about Girl in Hyacinth Blue.

I read this book without any prior expectations and what a pleasant surprise this has been! Highly recommended.

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