by Pauline Baer de Perignon
Translated from the French by Natasha Lehrer
La Collection Disparue was first published in French on 9/9/2020
PRAISE FOR THE VANISHED COLLECTION
“Undeniably intriguing … memorable and often moving. A fascinating journey to uncover lost family secrets—and treasure.” — Kirkus Reviews
“As devourable as a thriller… Incredibly moving.” —Elle
“Stimulated by a desire to write, Pauline unconsciously understands that what she really wants is to bear witness. As if in a Kubrick film, she opens a door and a river of blood pours out on her. With valued assistance from Modiano, Pauline digs into this shocking story that amazes and breaks the heart … transforming an unfortunately commonplace account of paintings stolen by the Nazis into a breathtaking novel of suspense.” —Le Figaro
“Pauline Baer de Perignon is a natural storyteller―refreshingly honest, curious and open. Like the best memoirists, she manages to tell multiple stories simultaneously, to delicately layer meanings and narratives. Here is not only a riveting art world mystery, but an utterly personal, heartfelt, and extremely intelligent story of a woman doing everything she can to uncover the truths of her family.” ―Menachem Kaiser, author of Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure
“For decades the lost Jules Strauss collection lay shrouded in mystery. First the Nazi expropriation, followed by the family’s own denial. Finally through determination a great-granddaughter is able to piece together previously buried clues. Pauline Baer’s goal is justice, but an unexpected consequence is a poignant connection with lost family and a keener understanding of history.” — Simon Goodman, author of The Orpheus Clock: The Search for My Family’s Art Treasures Stolen by the Nazis
The story was translated from the French (by Natasha Lehrer – bravo!), and the Francophile in me delighted at the mostly Parisian settings, the sprinkling of French words, and naturally, the general French way. (I liked it so much that I’m considering buying the original version, La collection disparue, just to have a re-read with a slightly different spin.) Not only is there French appeal, but the librarian in me also rejoices in how various librarians give the author the tools and information to find what she needs.
“The truth was I worked with a blend of instinct, enthusiasm, and curiosity … the truth was, I was making it all up as I went along.”
One of the endearing qualities of The Vanished Collection is how readers will connect with author Baer de Perignon. Her drive – or is it a calling? An obsession, even? – is just there. Her instinct tells her that there are things just waiting to be uncovered. At times, she seeks inspiration and direction from the long-dead Jules, almost channeling him to hear his cryptic words. At other times, she is pumping relatives for information, and it’s clear that not everyone wants to remember what she’s asking them to recall. And she even seeks answers from the artworks themselves, staring and studying and listening to their quiet messages.
I consider myself an art appreciator, but by no means am I well-educated in art history. Even so, I know the value of the various pieces Jules owned is staggering – as is the notoriety of the artists whose works he possessed: Monet, Degas, Renoir, Sisley, Tiepolo, and more. I found learning the process of uncovering a piece of art’s provenance fascinating, and it also angered me to be reminded of how often the Nazis took what wasn’t theirs to take and destroyed lives in the process. It further angered me to see that reparations are still slow to happen (if they happen at all), even with overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing in hand.
The Vanished Collection is an engaging book, easily read in one sitting, but whose story lingers long after the final pages are turned. The author’s journey into the past, along with her unexpected journey of self-discovery into the present, create a not-to-be-missed story.
Thank you to France Book Tours for providing a print ARC in exchange for my honest opinion -- the only kind I give.
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