I am so glad that this book ran across my radar earlier this year. I am a huge fan of historical fiction, and I’m always looking for a new and interesting story to pick up. Stolen Beauty follows the lives of Marie Altmann and her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer. If you haven’t read or seen The Woman in Gold you might not know who these very famous women are, so I’ll give you a brief overview. Adel Bloch-Bauer was a very wealthy socialite in early 20th century Vienna, who was painted several times by the famous artist, Gustav Klimt. His famous first portrait of her has become a symbol of Austrian culture, but it has a dark history. It was stolen by the Nazis during WWII and then given to the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, where it hung for decades before Maria Altmann famously took the Austrian government to court over it in the early 2000s. She sued the Austrian government in the US Supreme Court and won, reclaiming the painting that was stolen from her family over 50 years earlier.
It’s a fascinating story, and equally fascinating is the life Adele herself lived in Vienna, where she was at the heart of culture, art, and politics. Stolen Beauty alternates between the lives of these two very different, yet also strikingly similar, women as they traverse time and do what it takes to survive and thrive in their respective environment. From the rising anti-Semitism of Adele’s time to the outright terror of the Nazi occupation of Austria, there is never a dull moment in this tense, aching, and robust tale of love, life, and survival.
I couldn’t put this book down, and read it over the course of a couple of days in every single spare waking second I had. I was enraptured by the dazzling portrayal of Viennese society, the daring escapades of Maria and her husband as they attempted to flee the Nazi occupation, and the stunning voices of both Adele and Maria.
If you are a history buff at all, or if you’re a fan of beautiful prose, interesting characters, and fantastic storytelling (so, basically, if you like books at all) then you HAVE to read this book. It is unputtdownable until the very last page, and it will linger in your mind long after you’ve finished it. And isn’t that what all great literature should do?
Rating: 5+/5 stars
***Just a quick note to those who are sensitive to “explicit” material – there is sex in this book, though I would argue that it is not portrayed graphically or gratuitously, and actually does play a role in furthering the stories laid out here. But it is mentioned in several scenes, and I feel there are some readers who would benefit from knowing that upfront. I, myself, am not a fan of gratuitous sex in literature, and I’m telling you – this book was not like that at all in my opinion, but if you are handing this book to a younger reader, you might want to wait a few years before passing it along, as there are mature scenes. It is adult fiction, after all, so it isn’t tailored to younger readers.