By Elizabeth Rosner
In striking contrast to my last review, The Crystal Shard, I now bring you this beautifully written historical fiction. Where last time I followed Drizzt and his companions across the tundra of Icewind Dale, we now visit the real world through the eyes of two main characters with separate pasts to explore. The scars of real pain are evident on Mariv and Danzig, model and art teacher. Both born into a post-war world, she in Israel and he Germany, they flee their trauma from home for a new start in America. Both countries have been permanently marked with vivid reminders of the Holocaust, and the loss it brought these two can never be forgotten.
It was interesting to have alternate perspectives of the war told in one book. At one point in the narrative, Margot, a young German girl and Danzig’s older sister, talks about how proud her country makes her feel. Then when all comes clear when Hitler and the Nais are taken down, Margot understands what she was a part of, and can’t live with the shame of it. This brief glimpse into Margo’s mind displays the self-hatred she feels towards her family for their involvement in the war. I hadn’t ever thought about children’s involvement in such a catastrophic display of hate and how it would affect them.
A majority of this book was focused on the interwoven relationship between artist and model. Each of us sees and is seen in different situations. The importance of creating defines Danzig, while Mariv contemplates what others see when they look upon her unclothed body.
Danzig is a lonely artist devoid of inspiration. Teaching at San Francisco’s Art Institute, he is obviously haunted by his past to the point where he can’t take any comfort in the routines of the present. We see into his past relationships, which never lasted long because of his inability to attach to any one person. The love he lacked at home in his childhood rendered him cold and unfeeling as an adult. This character was not one I could really relate to as I’m not an older German man, but I do empathize with the deep pit of emptiness inside his soul – his inability to make meaningless work in his loveless world.
Mariv, on the other hand, has a tale that I really learned from. During her childhood, she had only her mother to supply her with care and affection (like me and my siblings who grew up with a single mom for a while). The inconsistent way she was parented, being either the center of attention or completely ignored, left her with some confusion about her self-worth. She now models for a living, “offering herself not only for the interpretive power of their gaze but to remind herself that she existed at all”. It’s such a contradiction: being seen completely exposed, yet concealing her true inner self from others and herself. She finds it difficult to deeply connect with her own emotions about a situation because of how often she has to bend herself to the will of others.
Ghosts follow Mariv as she enters Danzig’s classroom the first time they meet. Mysteriously composed and emotionally unavailable, she immediately capture’s his desire. She initially mistrusts him from what her grandmother has warned her about getting too close to Germans. But she pushes this fear aside and allows him to explore her beauty when she models for him alone.
In the end, she unlocks the inspiration he’s been searching for inside himself, by allowing him to heal old wounds and release the pain he’s been holding onto from what he experienced as a child. The interesting part about their involvement is that they find no need to touch each others’ bodies to allow intimacy to flow between them. She finds her poses as the music guides her and her body becomes liquid, and he absorbs all the details he can of her remarkable beauty.
As attracted as he is to her, he respectfully keeps his distance. He does not wish to repeat past mistakes by breaking the magic spell by getting too close and complicating the relationship of artist and model. The crackling energy between him and the models he lets into his private studio gives his sketches the energy they need, which he loses when they break the tension.
Mariv also discovers more about herself by the end. She comes to recognize that the only thing she can change about her body is the way she sees it; she’s not going to change form, but she must change how she values her shapes and contours. Just as she finds pleasure in collecting and studying the maps of the lands she’s inhabited, she must also come to appreciate the hills and valleys of her own body.
This book challenged me to think differently about myself and my appearance. I feel challenged to learn how to accept myself for the way I look without wanting to change anything. I don’t exactly feel the need to try nude modeling, but maybe there are things about myself that I can get more comfortable with in pursuit of discovering my own beauty.
When you come to understand the form of the body differently, as models and artists, you understand new things about your own. A lot of body insecurity could be alleviated with a few anatomy studies. We all have the same pieces, they just look a little different on each of us. Maybe instead of comparing ourselves to each other and highlighting our differences, we should notice how we are indeed quite similar. We all have things about ourselves we don’t like to look at, but we can still love our bodies for what they can do.
There is a beauty to everyone, and I truly believe that. We need to learn the art of self-love.
This one straight up gets a 100 for me. It was incredibly moving, beautifully told, and encouraging to me in a very personal way. Mariv has this unwavering inner fire, this power over her own life that she does not relinquish to anyone. And that is so inspiring to me. My high rating is based on my love of this heroine and how she sparked my desire to get more in tune with my beauty and body. I am going to give it away, however (which makes 2 so far this year), because I don’t find myself revisiting this one as it was only 200 pages, and I like to think that this one needs to be shared 🙂