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Susan Vreeland’s Novel “Lisette’s List” Transports you to Roussillon Provence

Roussillon Provence is the setting of Susan Vreeland’s magnificent art historical fiction novel “Lisette’s List”. The book transports you into Provencal countryside during the 1930s and the gloomy years of World War Two. The author is passionate about art and she portrays beautifully throughout her novel how art can bring color and hope into a person’s life, even through the darkest times.

Roussillon Provence the backdrop of "Lisette's List"
Roussillon Provence the backdrop of “Lisette’s List”

A Beautiful Historical Fiction Book about WW2, Love & Art

Sue Vreeland’s novel “Lisette’s List” has essentially two main themes. She captures life in Provence and Paris during WW2 and also weaves in art stories about the famous painters Pissarro, Cezanne and Chagall.

Lisette, the main protagonist of the book, is a Parisian girl raised in a Catholic orphanage in Paris. It is here in the orphanage where she learns from the nuns to appreciate and love art. After her marriage to Andre, they reluctantly relocate to his home town in Roussillon Provence in order to look after Pascal, Andre’s elderly and dying grandfather.

Delightful Anecdotes about the Post-Impressionism Painters – Pissarro & Cezanne

Pascal in his younger days, worked inside the ochre mines. He later sold paints made from the ochre pigments. He also became an art framer. Through his work, Pascal came in contact with emerging French artists, and in particular Pissarro and Cezanne. These painters are poor but Pascal gets paid with paintings for his framing. Pascal cherishes these paintings and appreciates their beauty way before the rest of the world does. He remembers every detail about his encounters with these painters.

The Ochre Quarries of Roussillon Provence
The Ochre Quarries of Roussillon Provence
The  Ochre Mines - Paul Cezanne Painting
The Ochre Mines – Paul Cezanne Painting [Public Domain]

When Lisette comes to Roussillon, Pascal feels he cannot die until Lisette hears the stories about the artists who created his beloved paintings. It is through Pascal’s stories that the reader learns about the painters. They are wonderful anecdotes about Cezanne and Pissarro. Pascal’s stories about these paintings and the impressionism and post-impressionism artists becomes an integral part of this book.

The Challenges of Life in Provence During WW2

With the outbreak of WW2, Lisette’s husband volunteers to join the French army to fight back the Germans. However before enlisting, he hides his grandfather’s precious paintings, understanding that they could be endangered during the war years. Lisette is left to find her way in Roussillon where many view her as an outsider. At first Lisette resists the Provencal way of life, but slowly she finds her way. Her journey is full of challenges.

Marc Chagall hides from the Nazis during WW2

During WW2, times were life threatening for European Jews, including Marc Chagall and his wife Bella. The Chagall’s fled Paris and for a short period, the couple lived in hiding in a small Provencial village called Gordes not far from Roussillon.

” There, in the south of France, for the first time in my life, I saw that rich greenness—the like of which I had never seen in my own country.” Quote Marc Chagall

Lisette’s encounter with the Chagalls

Lisette’s friend Maurice is a driver and secretly brings Marc Chagall painting materials from Avignon. Maurice knows how lonely Lisette feels in Roussillon without her husband. He decides to introduce Lisette to Marc Chagall who is in hiding from the Nazis. Maurice knows how much Lisette loves art and he wants to give her some comfort.

It is in these chapters that we are introduced to both Marc and Bella Chagall. Lisette is immediately struck by the beauty of Chagall’s paintings. The Chagall’s adore Lisette and happily explain to her the meaning behind Chagall’s whimsical, illogical, contradictive and colorful paintings. These are wonderful chapters describing some of Chagall’s important art pieces & the symbolism of many of the features in his paintings.

The Birthday - Marc Chagall Painting, 1915
Self Portrait with his wife Bella – Marc Chagall Painting

Lisette’s List is a Must-Read for lovers of Art, France & WW2 Stories

Lisette’s List is a love story. It tells of the love between a couple, within a family, between friends & of a country and place. This novel beautifully draws you into the world of French art, rustic Provence and the dark years of World War Two. The story will move you as various characters desperately try to heal themselves from the loss of their beloved ones & war-time trauma.

If you have already traveled to the Provence region in France, you will enjoy being transported back. If you haven’t traveled to Provence, you will definitely want to go after reading this book!!!

For more wonderful art historical fiction novels about the impressionists and post-impressionists, see my recommendations in the articles below: