The Blurb (from Goodreads):
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.
I’ve long been a fan of Susan Vreeland and her novels inspired by art and the lives of artists. I’ve had ‘Lisette’s List’ on my to-be-read bookshelf for a long time, however, and somehow never got to it. At last I picked it up this month, and was soon absorbed in its gently unfolding story of love, grief, and art.
Set in France during the dark days of World War II, it is a novel about the power of art to bring light into dark days. Lisette is just an ordinary young French woman seeking to survive through the German occupation. Her husband has died in the first days of fighting, and she is left alone to try to bear it. Before he left for the front, her husband hid his family’s collection of paintings and she determines to find them again and bring them home. She has always found beauty & consolation in art, and her fascination with painters is only deepened by a meeting with Marc Chagall who is in hiding near her village. She only meets him a few times, but he teaches her something important about the need for freedom, self-expression and creativity. Her search for the lost paintings brings her into conflict with the Germans and the village policeman, but her fear does not prevent her from keeping on trying.
A quiet, deep, beautiful book full of grace notes.