The author Gloria Goldreich tells the story of Moishe Shagal, better known as Marc Chagall and his family. The story of Marc Chagall is told through the eyes of the artist’s daughter, Ida. This novel takes you through Chagall’s complicated life journey.
We read about his modest childhood roots in Jewish Vietsbk, Russia (now Belarus). Later we find the Chagalls in their new life in avante garde Paris. In the backdrop, we note the insidious growing antisemitism of the 1930s. Chagall and his family are lucky and flee just in time to New York city during the Second World War. In his later years, Chagall returns to his beloved France, a lives his final years in a small village called Saint Paul de Vence.
Chagall & the Turbulent & Traumatic Years of Europe
In the Bridal Chair, Goldreich describes some major historical moments, taking the reader through French-Jewish-American history from the 1920s to the 1950s. We encounter the Russian Revolution, World War Two and Nazi occupied Europe. In addition, the author takes the reader to bohemian Paris in the 1920s, the thriving art epicenter of Europe.
We read how the post-impressionism painters and modern avante garde artists travelled to and live in Paris. We read about the artists and how they convened in the places that are today famous and associated with these painters, such as Café du Flore and Les Deux Magots.
The first half of the book is highly engaging. The book takes the reader to Europe during the period of Hitler’s increasing rise to power and the gradual growing antisemitism. We read of the Nazis overtaking Europe and the start of the final solution against the Jews, including famous artists like Marc Chagall.
Interestingly, Marc Chagall is vain about his self-importance and does not believe that the Nazi’s would touch him and his family. Luckily, Ida does not agree. With her persistence and the help of influential friends, the Chagall family are able to flee Europe just in time. They spend the remainder of the war years in New York City.
Gloria Goldreich Provides the Back-stories behind Chagall’s Famous Paintings
The Bridal Chair is a long but a highly engaging book, especially if you are familiar with Marc Chagall’s art. While I was reading this book, I found myself googling the internet to find pictures of the paintings mentioned in the book. It is alway wonderful to get a background story to a famous painting. We learn that Chagall presents Ida with a painting entitled “The Bridal Chair” as a gift on her wedding day.
Chagall’s Ambivalence about his Jewishness
If you are acquainted with Chagall’s art and his style, this book will give you a deeper understanding of his art. The book provides a historical context of Chagall’s life and the pain of being an “outsider” in a new country. Although he loved France, he always longed and missed his Russian and Jewish roots. His obsession with his Jewish past, is interesting as he lives as a totally secular non-religious Jew. His Jewish past remains a huge part of who he is throughout his life.
Interestingly despite his incredible fame during his lifetime, Chagall remains insecure and extremely needy. Chagall’s character as portrayed by Gloria Goldreich is very unlikable. In fact, most of the Chagall family members are difficult to like but it does not matter or take away from the beauty of this book.
This book is a gem for those who love historical fiction and art. Gloria Goldreich has created a masterpiece!
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