BY LAURIE LICO ALBANESE
Atria Books | 320 pages | ISBN: 9781501131981 | February 7, 2017 | $26.00
eBook: 320 pages | ISBN: 9781501132001 | $12.99
Personal, Sexual and Political Awakenings
by Laurie Lico Albanese (author of Stolen Beauty)
I adore novels about art in the tradition of Girl with a Pearl Earring. To study a painting until its secrets and voices come alive is a wonderful way to combine three things I love most: art, the private lives of complex people, and the voices of women whose stories are unknown.
A few years ago I was thumbing through an old issue of Art & Antiques, looking for inspiration, when I found a piece about Gustav Klimt and his most famous model, Adele Bloch-Bauer. A dear friend had suggested that I write a novel about Klimt – but where to begin, and how? Dr. Salomon Grimberg’s article set my mind aflame; it put in writing what most of the Viennese art world believes: that Klimt and his young (married) muse, Adele Bloch-Bauer, were secret lovers.
Reading about Klimt’s golden portrait, “Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907),” I was fascinated by turn of the century Vienna in which it was created. This is Freud’s Vienna: the birthplace of modern psychology, modern art, modern music, and the modern intellectual woman. Adele is the epitome of that time – smoldering, fierce and intelligent.
Stolen Beauty is a story about art, passion, and the height and destruction of Jewish Vienna during World War II. But I don’t think of this is a Holocaust book. I think of it as a novel about two remarkable women and their personal, sexual, and political awakenings. In this, I was inspired by my paternal great-grandmother’s story.
Like Adele, my great-grandmother was born Jewish, in Hungary, before the first World War. Like Adele’s niece, Maria, my great-grandmother came to America and raised her family in a new world. These two worlds – before and after the wars that nearly destroyed Europe – shape the heroines of Stolen Beauty, just as they shaped my great-grandmother’s life.
Researching this novel was arduous, fun and thrilling. I did most of the research while I was writing, and worked with an art historian to help me get all the details right. I travelled to Austria three times, found the palatial home where Adele lived with her husband Ferdinand, the castle where her portrait was on display after it was stolen by the Nazis, and the Viennese café where young Adolf Hitler spent time as a struggling and, ultimately, a failed artist. I went to the beautiful turquoise lake in the foothills of the Alps where Klimt spent his summers, and swam in those waters.
Stolen Beauty is a novel about real women, and how they meet the very great obstacles that life puts in their way. These are the stories I care about most: those that show us how women meet the challenges that their times present, and how they triumph, persevere, and keep love and hope alive.