Claire Cooperstein Johanna

ISBN 13: 9780684802343

Johanna

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9780684802343: Johanna
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A carefully researched historical novel tells the story of the sister-in-law of Vincent van Gogh, who saved his art and letters to Theo for posterity, in a series of real and imaginary letters and excerpts from Johanna's diary. A first novel. 35,000 first printing.

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From Publishers Weekly:

Dedicated to "all the women whose accomplishments have been forgotten," this assemblage of letters and journal excerpts, nearly all of them fictional, tells the story of Johanna Bonger-van Gogh, the young widow who preserved and promoted the legacy left by her brother-in-law, Vincent van Gogh. Anticipating a Christmas season filled with the gala celebration of her betrothal to Theo van Gogh, Johanna is dismayed when her fiance rushes to Arles to be with his brother, who has just cut off his ear. Though Johanna doesn't yet realize it, a sinister pattern has been established in which every important event in her marriage (from engagement through childbirth) will be mirrored by a desperate, anguished action on Vincent's part. Six months after the painter's suicide, Theo, in the final stages of syphilis, dies in an insane asylum, leaving Johanna with only limited resources (besides an attic full of van Goghs classified by others as "minor household decorations") with which to support their children. Refusing to return to her parents' home, the staunchly independent Johanna runs a boarding house, gets involved with Holland's nascent feminist movement, remarries and nearly single-handedly brings Vincent's artwork the recognition it deserves. As well as fleshing out the life of a hitherto obscure woman, Cooperstein does a fine job of conveying the giddy thrill of a world on the brink of modernism. At times, her apparent desire to educate interrupts narrative flow, as when Johanna declares in her journal, "Naturally, I can't discuss brothels with Father, even though Holland's have been government-regulated for years." But these glitches detract little from this inspiring, often exhilarating account of a woman coping with adversity and going on to create a rich and satisfying life for herself.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist:

History is always a matter of perspective, and scholars routinely uncover untold stories, neglected truths, and forgotten heroes and heroines. Cooperstein, an artist as well as a writer, discovered the truth about Vincent van Gogh's posthumous fame and has dramatized it in this clever and engaging novel. The standard version casts Vincent's loyal brother Theo in the role of savior, but Theo experienced a complete breakdown and died just six months after his brother's suicide. Vincent's paintings as well as hundreds of his letters were, in fact, rescued from destruction by Theo's widow, Johanna. Few traces of Johanna's life remain. Her diary does exist, but it's not "available for research," so Cooperstein, captivated by Johanna's resilience, courage, and independence, has resourcefully told Johanna's remarkable story through imaginary diary entries and letters. It's amazing how much personality Cooperstein injects into these brief, episodic passages. We get to know Johanna, of course, as well as her tyrannical father, her supportive mother, Theo, and Vincent. Cooperstein also manages to convey a great deal of information about Johanna's repressive milieu, thus heightening her novel's quiet but effective drama. Donna Seaman

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