Ellen Umansky's new novel is The Fortunate Ones.
From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: Why did you decide to center your novel around a painting by the artist Chaim Soutine, and what do you think the book says about the importance of art?Visit Ellen Umansky's website.
A: Years ago, a friend asked me to go to an exhibit of Soutine’s paintings at the Jewish Museum with him. I had never heard of Soutine before, and truthfully, I was much more interested in the brunch that my friend promised me afterward.
But I went and I was floored. Soutine is rightly famous for his landscapes and his still lifes but I found his portraits mesmerizing. There was something about the way he captured the humanity of his subjects--people who were often overlooked, like cooks, waiters, or in my novel, a bellhop--that was deeply moving to me.
The exhibit delved into his biography too: he was born dirt-poor, the 10th of 11 children in a tiny Jewish Lithuanian village, and somehow made his way to Paris, where he worked as an artist. When the Nazis took over, he fled to the countryside, and he died during the war.
He was by many accounts difficult and awkward, a perennial outsider, like many of the people he painted. That awkwardness and longing is readily apparent in his art, and I was drawn to it. I found myself looking and wondering, what it would be like to look at one of his paintings for years on end? What could it mean to someone?
As to the second half of your question: I come to art as a novice, but I’m really interested in...[read on]