Sunday, March 9, 2014

What I've Read Recently Part II

What I've Read Recently Part II . . .

I am Rembrandt's DaughterI am Rembrandt's Daughter by Lynn Cullen -- Young Adult Historical Fiction

Cornelia van Rijn is the daughter of the once famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn and his maid. Cornelia feels shame and anger towards her father for not marrying her mother, making her life miserable and leaving Cornelia to be labeled illegitimate. Shunned by society and mostly ignored by her father, Cornelia longs for love and acceptance. She has only her older brother Titus to love though she's a bit jealous of her father's obvious love for Titus. She also worries about how her family is going to survive now that her father's paintings are no longer sought after. Cornelia keenly feels the grinding poverty that her brother blithely ignores and her father can't seem to accept. Titus' solution is to marry his wealthy cousin, leaving Cornelia alone to deal with her father's temper. There's only Neel, her father's last remaining pupil keeping them from begging. Neel tries to befriend Cornelia but she turns her nose up at the serious young man. She prefers Carel, the handsome son of a local wealthy merchant family. He doesn't seem to mind her shabbiness and they share a love of painting and a tragic past. Cornelia reminisces about the days when her mother was alive and a man with a yellow mustache frequently walked by and winked at her and gave her presents. If she can marry Carel when she comes of age in two years, she'll have everything she's always dreamed of. Yet, there are some things she can't help worrying about even still and when tragedy visits her family, she realizes how much she's truly loved.

This is a dark, rather sad story. The story is framed by events taking place in 1670 but the rest of the story goes back to 1667 and then back and forth between Cornelia's childhood and young adulthood. This made for a rather confusing story to start with. Once I got used to the time shifts, I didn't have problems following the story. I found Cornelia's flashbacks very bleak and disturbing. Her present life isn't any better or worse. Her childhood fears are confusing and her mother's lack of caring is also never really explained. Some of the childhood scenes set the stage for what comes at the end but I don't like seeing all the flashbacks was necessary. The Romeo and Juliet/love triangle plot is a bit silly. I liked one boy over the other at first but then I had the same thoughts as Cornelia about Carel. There's too much description about the city, poverty and the plague. It makes for some gruesome visuals. The descriptions add to the story but I didn't like them. Do not read this story before bed. This book is very much a young adult coming of age novel. It wasn't well written enough for me to fully engage in the story and not be annoyed with the teenage characters. I didn't like the plot all that much. There's a dramatic twist to the story at the end that I saw coming. It's obvious to anyone except Cornelia. The big reveal causes the actions at the end of the story. I wish there was more at the end of the book and less of the build up. I think the story would have been better without the romance threads and just stuck to Cornelia and her wanting to belong. There's a great line at the end that sums up Rembrandt's feelings for Cornelia and I would rather leave it at that than add all the drama. I can easily see the internal struggle Cornelia goes through. She has a love/hate relationship with her father. There's no official portrait of her so I can imagine how she must have felt watching her father paint, maybe longing for some of his attention and not getting it. The author added a lot of "what ifs?" to the story that I felt were a bit cliched and unnecessary.

The characters are complex. Cornelia is growing up in a tumultuous household. She doesn't belong anywhere, or so she thinks, and she longs to belong to someone. She thinks money will buy happiness but maybe it won't. That's the lesson she has to figure out. She has to decide who she loves and whether she can accept who she is. Titus is the complete opposite of Cornelia. He's always lively and happy but he hasn't had the same experiences Cornelia has. He's the much favored only surviving son of Rembrandt's beloved first wife Saskia. Saskia's family had money. Titus is also male so he can earn a living. He doesn't think too much about what will happen to Cornelia. For all his faults though, I liked him. Neel is a nice boy but shy and series. Cornelia, being a teenage girl with hormones, doesn't appreciate him. He needed a bit more developing to make him human. None of the other characters were fully likeable. Rembrandt is portrayed as a tortured genius with a gift from God that no one understands. He drinks too much, he yells too much and treats his only surviving daughter like a slave. His paintings are dark and moody, but his technique was brilliant and paved the way for later painters though in his day he was under appreciated. Carel has his faults too. I won't name them in this review because that would spoil the story. He's a typical rich kid. He is his uncle all over again. Magdalena is a spoiled brat and I wanted to slap her. She annoyed me every time she was on the page, yet I did feel sorry for her at the end of the book.

This book succeeded in making me want to learn more about Rembrandt and look up his paintings.

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