Reviews of Lisette's List


Complete reviews are below; just follow the respective periodical links.

The book's most touching moments...intertwine art with human connections.

-- Booklist

[Vreeland's] deeply researched novel is mesmerizing. Merveilleux.

-- Kirkus (starred)

"Love more. Love again. Love broadly. Love without reservation."

-- Washington Post

Lisette's List is heartfelt, loving and lovely, and asks difficult questions beautifully.

-- Shelf Awareness

The novel's heart is its patient interweaving of sensuous, meticulously observed details with themes of forgiveness, female strength, and survival.

-- Publishers Weekly

Art helps Lisette to find herself and see new things.

-- Library Journal

The list both reflects and helps inspire Lisette's maturation.

-- Boston Globe

"I had brought something out of the earth, and it was used to make something beautiful. I was part of a creative process."

-- Bookreporter

Vreeland's passion for art, her attention for detail, her exploration of nuance. . .

-- San Diego Jewish World


In her moving latest novel, set in Provence between 1937 and 1948, Vreeland explores the power of art and how painters help us interpret our world. This involving novel also traces one young woman's maturation as she adjusts to a new life. Although Lisette Roux resents leaving Paris with her husband, André, to care for his grandfather Pascal, she loves hearing Pascal reminisce about Pissarro and Cézanne. Their paintings and others, which hang on his walls, have immense personal and monetary value, so André conceals them before leaving to fight. Alone during wartime, Lisette endures tragedy and hardships while developing close friendships; they, and her mission to recover the paintings, drive her on. The stunning countryside, with its ocher mines, fragrant orchards, and cold mistral, is passionately depicted, and Vreeland is an informed guide to the Impressionist through Modernist movements. The book's most touching moments, though, intertwine art with human connections, such as how the love between Marc and Bella Chagall--in hiding from the Nazis in Provence--is evoked through his work.

-- Sarah Johnson, BOOKLIST

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KIRKUS (starred review)

Une jolie Parisienne in Provence during the turbulent World War II years comes to understand love and great art to the core of her being. In a sweeping historical novel set in Vichy [regime] France, Lisette Roux, a 20-year-old bride who longs for "window-shopping, cabaret hopping, gallery gazing," grudgingly moves out of Paris to the rural south to take care of her new husband André's aging grandfather in 1937. "How are we going to survive in a town without a gallery?" she asks in dismay. But Pascal is not your ordinary grandpère: An ochre miner-turned-pigment salesman, he befriended young, unappreciated painters and amassed a collection of Cézanne, Pissarro and Picasso paintings.

After Pascal dies, the loving couple is cast out of an Edenic existence following the German invasion of France. André enlists to fight the Nazis and...Lisette's short stay in Provence stretches out more than a decade, prolonged by the war and her determined attempt to find Pascal's pictures, which André hid for safekeeping before going to war. Lisette's sensibility deepens as she grows closer to former prisoner of war Maxime Legrand, André's fellow soldier and best friend. Marc and Bella Chagall, hiding in Provence because they are Jewish, show up for a brief but blazing cameo appearance.

Vreeland, who has proven in earlier art-themed best-sellers that she has an exquisite eye for detail, is enormously talented at establishing the important societal role of art, particularly relevant here as the Nazis both steal and burn it. While her prose can get a bit fluffy ("apricot trees blossoming with pinkish-white petals like flakes of the moon") and the book wraps up a tad too tidily, her deeply researched novel is mesmerizing. Merveilleux. Vreeland's passionate writing is as good as a private showing at the Louvre.

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Washington Post

Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland.

In 1937, a young married couple, Lisette and André Honoré Roux, move from Paris to the village of Roussillon in Provence. Raised in an orphanage and passionate about art, Lisette is reluctant to give up a possible apprenticeship in a Paris gallery, and she can't understand why André, who is an officer of the "Guild of Encadreurs, the association of picture-frame craftsmen, "wants to give up his position to care for his sickly grandfather, Pascal. "In the south of France, things happen as they should," her husband insists. In Lisette's List by bestselling historical novelist Susan Vreeland, things happen that also amaze and illuminate.

Vreeland's love of painters and painting, her meticulous research and the pitch-perfect descriptive talents that distinguished such books as Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Luncheon of the Boating Party are abundantly evident in her new novel. "In the clarity after the rain, the valley appeared as a living version of Cézanne's landscape," she writes of Provence. "The terrain was divided into distinct shapes, each in a different hue -- the striped chartreuse green of the vineyards, the solid darker green of vegetable plots, the golden grass of wheat fields, the sprays of pink cherry and white apple blossoms, the cultivated fields of sunflowers, their faces turned to the sun." Grandpère Pascal, who formerly mined ochre ore and sold paints, owns works by Cézanne, Pissarro, Picasso and Chagall. "We mined the ochres that made them," he explains to Lisette. "I want you to understand how important they are so you will care for them." He is proud of his small role in the creation of these paintings. "I had brought something out of the earth," he says, "and it was used to make something beautiful." Through these tales, Lisette begins to realize there are valuable lessons to be learned in the village of Roussillon. When Pascal exhorts her to "do the important things first," she begins keeping "Lisette's List of Hungers and Vows." Her No. 1 item: "Love Pascal as a father."

But in 1939, when de Gaulle declares war and the Nazis move deeper into the south of France, Pascal's art collection is lost in the chaos. Lisette's husband leaves to join the army, and she must endure dwindling supplies, limited food and unending loneliness. A kindly local bus driver takes her to meet Marc Chagall and his wife, who are living in a neighboring village. She's inspired by the artistic whimsy and emotion in Chagall's paintings. "I glimpsed that the upside-down woman and houses represented contradictions," Lisette muses. "The rooster cradling a woman questioned the belief of size and the capacity to protect and comfort, and the man in the sky shattered the certainty of gravity."

Before the Chagalls flee [to America], they encourage Lisette to keep looking for the paintings. Bravely dealing with intimidation, false leads and betrayals, she continues to search, while cutting a path to a new life for herself. Can she succeed in both quests? The final entry in Lisette's list offers a hopeful way forward : "Love more. Love again. Love broadly. Love without reservation."

-- Eugenia Zukerman

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In Lisette's List, Susan Vreeland (Clara and Mr. Tiffany; Girl in Hyacinth Blue) lovingly portrays Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modernist French art by way of a modest fictional character in Provence. In 1937, newlyweds André and Lisette Roux move from France's vibrant capital to the pastoral southeastern town of Roussillon to care for his grandfather, Pascal, who has written that he is dying. A passionate Parisian, Lisette is at first miserable in the backwater town, and infuriated when Pascal turns out to be healthier than he let on: he simply wanted their company, and to share what he remembers about the famous French artists he has known.

But Lisette is as fervent about art as she is about Paris, and André has trained in his grandfather's trade of carving fine frames for fine paintings. She is captivated by Pascal's collection of seven paintings: by Cézanne and Pissarro, and one possibly by Picasso. As a miner in the nearby ochre mines and later a pigment salesman, Pascal made the most of his access to these men, and now shares his recollections with the rapt Lisette, as well as his wisdom about life and love. By the time Pascal eventually dies, Lisette has made a home of sorts in Roussillon; her love for the paintings further compels her to stay in Provence when Andre hides them (for fear of their destruction or seizure by German troops), not telling even Lisette where they're stowed. André then enlists to fight for France, and Lisette is left alone, waiting for both the safe return of her husband and a reunion with the artwork.

Over the next decade and more, Lisette keeps a list of "Lisette's Hungers and Vows." Inspired by Pascal and his paintings, André love and the quiet strength and beauty of the Provençal surroundings, she pledges to "learn what makes a painting great," "learn how to be self-sufficient" and "love without reservation." She meets Marc Chagall and his wife, Bella, who are hiding in a nearby town. Upon receiving a gift painted specially for her by Chagall, she begins her own art collection and narrative. But war necessarily brings tragedy as well as new beginnings. Lisette will experience love and loss, joy and deep pain; learn animal husbandry as well as art history; and parse the moral questions raised under Vichy French rule, as the years go by. She finds new friends, undertakes small favors and large sacrifices, all in times of war and recovery, amid the paintings she loves so. Readers will likely rush through the lovely Lisette's List, only to be bereaved when the final stroke is painted and the portrait is complete.

-- Julia Jenkins

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Vreeland follows Clara and Mr. Tiffany with a lyrical paean to Provence, painting, and the timeless cycle of death and rebirth. In 1937, 20-year-old Lisette Roux must leave her beloved Paris to live with her husband André in the south of France, where they will care for his grandfather, Pascal, in tiny Roussillon. Provincial life is challenging in all but one respect. Lisette has always wanted to work with art, and Pascal, a former artists' pigment salesman, has collected seven extraordinary paintings as well as many tales of artists, which he is eager to share before he dies. His insistence on doing what is most important before it's too late inspires Lisette to create her own list of essential "hungers and vows." Soon after his passing, Germany occupies France. Before leaving to fight, André hides the paintings—Pissarros, Cézannes, and a possible Picasso—in a location he doesn't disclose in fear for Lisette's safety. The years that follow bring small privations, huge losses, the search for the scattered paintings, and the slow resurgence of hope. Early on, Vreeland's narrative lacks compelling suspense or drive, but it picks up once the war begins and the paintings are lost. The novel's heart is its patient interweaving of sensuous, meticulously observed details with themes of forgiveness, female strength, and survival.

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Vreeland once again explores the impact of art on the individual. When Lisette and André Roux move in 1937 from Paris to a Provençal village to care for André's grandfather Pascal, the sophisticated Parisienne soon is refining her identity in a rural southern France that's not yet the vacation paradise of today but home to several decades' worth of French artists. Through mentoring by Pascal (as a pigment salesman and frame maker, he had befriended artists Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne, who paid him in paintings), Lisette learned to look beyond Paris's showy artifice and appreciate art's ability to free minds and to document the depths of love words can fail to capture. When World War II breaks out, other artists, Marc Chagall and [playwright] Samuel Beckett in exile from occupied Paris, are also logically intertwined into the story.

Verdict: Fans of Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring will find similar historical fiction pleasures here as will those of Ayelet Waldman's Love and Treasure. Reading groups are bound to enjoy discussing how art helps Lisette to find herself and see new things, showcasing how art and life not only imitate but create each other.

-- Nicole R. Steeves

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The most interesting character in Susan Vreeland's latest novel about art and artists is Bernard Blanc, constable of the Provençal village of Roussillon. A conflicted soul, he embodies the spirit of this colorful place, remote from urban civilization but hardly immune from its wartime discontents. Bernard appears to be something of a ruffian, with little refinement and dubious political sympathies. But, over time, he shows himself to be generous, passionate, pragmatic, inventive, patriotic and capable of heroism, as the novel's protagonist and narrator, Lisette, slowly discerns. His emotional complexity energizes "Lisette's List," and his presence injects suspense into a narrative that might otherwise lapse into stately predictability.

This historical novel's other great strength is its lovingly detailed setting, a mountaintop village -- "like some fantasy kingdom from a child's folk legend, altogether dazzling"-- whose charm gradually enwraps the reader just as it does the initially resistant Lisette. "I had to admit that the fruit trees, laden with spring blossoms, exuded a heavenly fragrance," she says on her first encounter with the Provençal countryside. "The grapevines were sprouting small chartreuse leaves, wild red poppies decorated the roadside, and the sun promised warmth, so welcome after a winter in Paris."

Yet Lisette is skeptical that she can ever adapt to life here. Young, naïve and somewhat selfish, she resents having been wrenched away from her cosmopolitan existence by her beloved husband, André. His argument for the move is compelling: His grandfather, Pascal, who helped raise him, wants his small family beside him in his final days.

Vreeland ... is entranced by color, artistic creativity and the transformative power of art. These concerns also inform "Lisette's List," set in the period 1937 to 1948, and featuring cameo appearances by Marc and Bella Chagall.

None of the novel's principal characters is an artist, but art matters to all of them.


-- Julia M. Klein

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[Note: Since this is a long review, I will only include the text that puts forth concepts not covered in the reviews above. The complete review can be read on ]

Fiction about art and artists has long been popular. For Van Gogh, see Lust for Life; for Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring. Susan Vreeland, author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue, The Passion of Artemisia and other novels with a painterly theme, is one of its most successful contemporary practitioners. Here, she takes on Post-Impressionism's heavy hitters, particularly Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne. She also offers an evocative twin portrait of Paris and the small southern town of Roussillon.

It isn't long before Lisette learns to love her grandfather-in-law, for Pascal is a veritable fount of information about late 19th-century painters, some of whom he knew personally. Originally a miner of ochre in Roussillon, he became a seller of pigments and finally a framer in Paris (he taught André the craft). The old man emphasizes that he was a link in the chain "from mine to majesty": "I had brought something out of the earth, and it was used to make something beautiful. I was part of a creative process."

Nonetheless, it is a struggle for Lisette to adapt to village life, particularly after World War II begins and André leaves to engage in the vain battle to save France from invasion. She comes to feel at home in Roussillon ("Provence was teaching me to surrender to the seasons, and to wait with patience"); she keeps a goat and a chicken and a vegetable garden, learns to make chèvre and marzipan, shovels waste from under the outhouse, gathers almonds from her tree --- tasks that would have been unimaginable only a few years before. She is a survivor, and I identified very much (as a list maker myself) with the impulse to write down her hopes and intentions. She calls it her List of Hungers and Vows, adding to it as the months and years pass and she finds new challenges.

I savored Lisette's journey from Parisian sophisticate to countrywoman, and the way she manages to synthesize her love of art with her affection for Roussillon. Moreover, LISETTE'S LIST has inspired me to revisit the works of these painters at my neighborhood museums.

-- Kathy Weissman

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Lisette's List Teaches as it Entertains

I had become so intrigued by the love and mystery story that Vreeland had used as a plot device that from time to time I was ready to dispense with the art appreciation lessons and get right to the denouement of the plot. Luckily, Vreeland couldn't hear my thoughts, because now that I look back at it, knowing how the story turns out, I realize that Vreeland's passion for art, her attention for detail, her exploration of nuance, combined to make this book memorable in a way that the plot alone could not have. I found out not only who dunnit and which guy got the girl, but I also learned quite a bit about some of Vreeland's favorite artists, including two who were Jewish, Camille Pissaro and Marc Chagall.

So, just a few words about the plot should suffice. Lisette, who grew up in a Paris orphanage, loves to go to museums, and falls in love and marries a frame maker, who is quite knowledgeable about art. She moves with him to the French countryside because his grandfather, a rough-hewn art connoisseur is ailing. The grandfather used to sell the ochre dug out of local mines for use as pigments, and thereby met many artists and heard stories about many more. Along the way, he obtained some magnificent paintings by artists whose reputations grew over time. Imagine, a provincial owning paintings by Pissarro, Cézanne, and Chagall. Not just a collector, but an appreciative audience for artists, the grandfather collected stories and insights about these painters, which he passed on to Lisette, the ever-eager art student.

When the grandfather died, the paintings were inherited by Lisette's husband, who was among the first to volunteer to fight with the French against the Germans. Knowing that the Nazis would either confiscate the paintings for their own private collections, or destroy them as "degenerate art" prompted the husband, André, to hide the paintings. Parisian through and through, Lisette wanted desperately to be able to return to Paris, where art and culture could be found on every street corner, but even after the war. . .desire to find the hidden paintings kept her in the countryside, to which she had gradually adjusted and came to love.

-- Donald Harrison, SAN DIEGO JEWISH WORLD

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BOSTON GLOBE (continued)

André carves frames, a profession for which there is little call in Roussillon. His best friend, Maxime, is employed by a Parisian art gallery. Raised in an orphanage by an artistically inclined nun, Lisette has a good eye and aspires to work in a gallery, too. And Pascal has mined ochre, sold the pigments, and made frames for some of the great names of French art.

In exchange for his frames, these artists -- Cézanne, Pissarro and Picasso -- have given him seven paintings, which now adorn his Roussillon home. (Vreeland combines real paintings with invented works.) Pascal also claims to have been the model for one of Cézanne's card players. Among the novel's more ponderous conceits is that Pascal feels impelled to describe his conversations with each artist to Lisette, so that she will treasure the paintings as he does.

Despite this artistic bounty, Lisette struggles to adjust to life in a place where flush toilets don't exist, cultural pursuits are sparse, and the single café is reserved for men. Her husband helps by constructing an outhouse for her with a scenic cliff view. After telling his stories, Pascal dies peacefully. And with war on the horizon, André enlists, leaving Lisette behind. Before his departure, he hides the paintings to protect them from rampaging Nazis. Much of the plot turns on Lisette's attempts to locate the missing pictures, a task that assumes pride of place in what she calls "Lisette's List of Hungers and Vows."

The list both reflects and helps inspire Lisette's maturation. Her first aim is to "Love Pascal as a father," another is to "Learn what makes a painting great." As her life darkens, she will add, "Forgive André," and "Learn how to be self-sufficient." After years in Roussillon, Lisette in effect goes native, raising a goat and a chicken, and adopting many of the town's customs. "Roussillon has taught me how to wait," she tells Maxime. But Paris continues to call to her.

Which life (and potential love) will she choose once the Nazis are gone and the world again opens up? While Lisette ponders her options, readers will enjoy lingering in the sun-dappled, fruit-scented Provençal landscape that Vreeland brings to life.

-- Julia M. Klein

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