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For those who loved Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring, Susan Vreeland delivered an intriguing story of another Vermeer painting with her 1999 novel GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE. (Ironically, the same Vermeer exhibition that was held at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the Hague in 1995 and 1996 respectively, inspired both books plus a third, Katherine Weber's The Music Lesson.)

Beginning in the present when professor Cornelius Engelbrecht displays his hidden treasure to a colleague, this tale sweeps back to Amsterdam during WWII and then further back to the 17th century when Vermeer's first strokes touched the canvas.

In between, we meet those who owned the painting and witness how it affected their lives: from being sold to buy food, to floating down a river with an infant, from a French courtesan's home to Vermeer himself, whose personal battles were won in the quiet perfection and balance of his painting.

Though the eight stories are not in chronological order, each possesses its own quiet beauty and strength, just like the painting. But Vreeland goes further, using the artwork as a symbol of humanity in times of flood and war, man's capacity to love in times of hate. Each historical era is as lovingly crafted as a stunning work of art. SWEET (Now available, 300 pp., $15.95)

Reviewed by: 
Kathe Robin