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Book Review

Book: Girl with a Pearl Earring
Author: Tracy Chevalier
Published: January, 2001
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)

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Synopsis: A fictional tale about a real painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring is told through the eyes of uneducated and quiet young Griet who becomes a maid in the household of the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer to help support her family. Despite the strict moral and social codes of 17th-century Holland, Griet is drawn into the painterís private life. Impressed with her sense of color and composition, the artist allows Griet to assist him with his work and eventually sits for him. Despite the resulting household tension, Griet is transformed by her brief encounter with the artist and immortalized in the famous painting.

Editorís Review: In Girl with a Pearl Earring, Chevalier paints such an intimate and believable portrait of a girl whose fascination with and devotion to her ďmasterĒ is so complete, that the reader cannot help but admire her and yet pity her at the same time. Told in a simple yet powerful narrative, Chevalier traces Grietís growing attraction for the painter as well as the complex relationships within the entire Vermeer household and her own. Each character sketch is a work of art: the wife whose insecurity makes her self-centered and shallow, the perceptive yet hard-boiled mother-in-law who makes it her business to do what it takes to ensure their financial security, the simple-minded maid who takes offense easily and doesnít hesitate to punish those who offend her, the brother who is so disillusioned with his apprenticeship that he becomes reckless in the pursuit of pleasure, and the artist, who is willing to sacrifice a young girlís honor and livelihood as well as his own relationship with her, to become a successful painter. Chevalier helps us to understand the private life of an exceedingly bright and sensitive but very quiet young girl who is surprisingly astute in her evaluations of the people she comes in contact with but yet naÔve where her strongest affections lie. Chevalier skillfully traces Grietís growing attraction for her ďmasterĒ that develops into a bond she cannot willingly relinquish even when it threatens to destroy her chances for future happiness. She also addresses the moralistic attitudes of the times that left young women of Grietís station in life with few choices if they were unlucky enough to attract the attentions of the wrong sort of man. In addition to the complex personal relationships that Chevalier brings to life, she succeeds in creating a convincing portrayal of daily life in 17th-century Holland as well as the process of painting from the preparation of the paints to the finishing touches, through rich and sensual visual imagery. Overall, Girl with a Pearl Earring is an absorbing and evocative novel that is sure to give the reader a deeper understanding of the bond that can develop between two people who share a similar way of looking at the world as well as an insight into the emotions felt by those who lack the freedom or the desire to reveal them.

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
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