I couldn’t put this book down, it drew me in completely, the descriptive writing was well done, and had me able to imagine the people and places where this story took place, as well as being able to see ‘The Painting’ that Anikar loves and which causes so much drama for her and those around her.
This novel had two aspects I enjoy, a good mystery and history written in a way I can appreciate, empathise and learn from. I love learning as I read. Set in 1989, in Sydney, Anika, who immigrated from Hungary 5 years previously, during the time of the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall and all that came with it, has escaped a past she tries to forget, but which is a constant in her life, from tapped telephone calls to her family, memories of being arrested by the secret police and a constant distrust of letting people in. I admit to not knowing as much as I feel I should about this time in history and I appreciate novels that can give me insight into this time and place, I was 14 in 1989 and I knew next to nothing about what was going on on the other side of the world, and what people had to endure during this time.
When Anika left Hungary to live with her aunt Tabilla, who had escaped over the border into Austria many years before, after the death of her husband and immigrated to Australia, she brings with her a painting of an auburn-haired woman in a cobalt blue dress, that was once her uncle’s possession. This painting is the catalyst for everything that happens secrets, lies, theft and distrust, as Anika’s life is thrown into the centre of a mystery about where the painting came from, who owns it and who is telling the truth. Anika starts to doubt everything her parents and her grandmother have told her about the painting as questions about its providence arise, it is stolen, and someone discloses a secret from his past.
I could really feel Anika’s struggle as she meets the three men that will turn her world around. Daniel, a curator from the art gallery of NSW, offers to help her get the painting valued, but he also seems interested in her as a person, Jonno, who she meets at the art gallery doesn’t seem trustworthy and turns out to be a journalist, and Julius, a friend of her aunt’s, an art collector, who is more than a little weirded out when he sees the painting. Anika already struggles to trust people and open up to them and when the painting is stolen, she doesn’t know who to trust, each man seems to have a motive and each one is suspicious in his behaviour in some way. I myself wasn’t sure who could be trusted and though I initially liked Daniel, I wasn’t completely sure about him.
Things that come to light after the painting is stolen, the history of the Nazis and the Russian’s looting and stealing artworks, and her own family’s secretiveness around the painting, cause Anika a great deal of stress and when the Iron Curtain falls and she is able to return safely to Hungary to visit her parents, she goes determined to uncover the mystery and get some answers.
It is during this trip that she also learns to trust and to heal and right one of the wrongs of the past.
This paragraph from near the end of the novel really spoke to me:
Her thoughts floated free. Free of drag, free of resistance, and she felt an expanding sense of detachment. Not only was she seeing the earth from a different vantage point but she was seeing her life in a new way too. Generations of her family had been scarred by upheavals, and their stories were multiplied millions and millions of times all over the globe. Everywhere there were people like them. Damaged people, displaced people. But there were survivors too.
This was a fabulous read and I will be looking to catch up on this author’s backlist if this book is anything to go by, I am sure I will enjoy them.