Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Art Student's War-Brad Leithauser

The Art Student's War
Brad Leithauser
Knopf, Nov 3 2009, $28.95
ISBN: 9780307271112

In 1943 Detroit eighteen years old passionate art student Bea Paradisio gets on the street car when a soldier on crutches offers his seat to her. Feeling a patriotic fervor, Bea wonders what she can do for the soldiers who risk their lives to make democracy safe for those back home. She begins to visit hospitals where the wounded heal or die; and starts sketching the patients so the soldiers can regain somewhat what they lost at war.

Bea knows the visits to the soldiers are as much for her mental health as it is for the G.I.s she meets. Her home is a mess of accusations and counterattacks. Her mentally unbalanced mom claims her own sister is trying to steal her husband Vico in spite of Grace being happily married. Her other break from her mom’s insanity is with art student Ronny Olsson, heir to greater Detroit’s largest drugstore chain. However, it is mathematician Henry Vanden Akker, whom she becomes a woman for as she knows he will not return from the war. Soon after learning Henry died in a plane crash, she catches the flu, but recovers to marry and raise a family.

This is an excellent historical tale that looks deep into the life of a woman on the home front during and after the war. Bea’s life during WWII is the more fascinating segue though the late 1940s are well written, but raising a family as important as that is lacks the utmost fascination the audience will have with the artist “returning” the faces to the injured soldiers. The Art Student’s War is a super 1940s drama as Bea shows women came a long way during WWII as an intricate part of “The Greatest Generation”, but afterward returned to more traditional roles
Harriet Klausner

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