Stolen Beauty: A Novel

Image of Stolen Beauty: A Novel
Release Date: 
February 6, 2017
Atria Books
Reviewed by: 

". . . a gripping historical novel . . ."

Laurie Lico Albanese has written a gripping historical novel that revolves around the lives of two extraordinary women who live in extraordinary times.

Adele Bloch-Bauer is a beautiful, brilliant, wealthy fin d’ siècle wife, hostess, and arts patron in Vienna during its heyday. She is also a model for, and lover of, the artist Gustav Klimt. His most famous work, Woman in Gold, for which Adele posed, is central to the story and to the psychological development of both women.

Adele’s beloved niece, Maria Altmann, is a brave and devoted wife who, 40 years after her aunt’s fame, watches Vienna disintegrate into Nazi terror and does something unspeakable in order to save her husband. Many years later, she reclaims the world-famous portrait and returns it to its rightful place, thus bringing to a close the saga of a remarkable family, and a fascinating century.

The well-paced stories of both women, told in alternating chapters, are presented in clear, crisp language, beautifully described settings, and credible dialogue that moves each woman’s story forward, compelling readers to keep the pages turning, as do the historical elements of the novel.

As the story unfolds, there are critical questions to be answered: Will Maria and her family escape the Nazis? Will Adele’s relationship with Klimt be discovered? What will become of the famous painting that inspired Adele to become the independent woman she longed to be?

These questions are answered in due course as the drama of both women’s lives unfold, so that at the end of her life, Maria is able to reflect back on all that has happened to her and Adele. “When you’re an old woman,” she says, “memories and days stand up beside one another like rows of light . . . they come when you sleep, and appear as clear as carrot cake muffins lined on a baking rack in the kitchen. They rain like notes from a piano and fall among the pine trees in the backyard. Bidden or unbidden, welcome or unwelcome, they come.”

With all the elements of a good novel—love, sex, tense relationships, events spiraling out of control, family dynamics, personal conflict as well as war—coupled with real people and true history, this accessible novel of strong women, self-discovery, evolving social mores, artistic challenges, and a rapidly changing world makes for satisfying reading, whether one’s interest is primarily women, history, art, or life in one of Europe’s most beautiful cities in the time of Freud and free love.

Fans of Susan Vreeland and Tracy Chevalier as well as Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun will find much to like here. So will anyone who has been to the Neue Gallerie in New York, with its authentic Viennese aura, and seen the original Woman in Gold.