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“Do power, wealth, and nobility give one the right to determine how an artist paints, or who is allowed to view the painting as the artist created it?”

“Power, yes,” Moses replied without hesitation.  “Yes, power has been known to dictate art.”

“What do you think Masaccio would have to say about that?” she asked.  “The defilement of his work?”

“He would not be pleased,” Moses said.  “An artist is never pleased when his work is compromised.” 

(from The Woman Who Heard Color, page 100)

The Woman Who Heard Color is a beautiful novel about creativity, passion, and a woman who would do anything to prevent the destruction of art.  Hanna Schmid flees the family farm in Bavaria for a more exciting life in Munich in 1900, working as a housekeeper for the Fleischmanns, who own an art gallery.  Hanna admires the artwork constantly moving in and out of the Fleischmann home, and her love for the colorful is intensified by a neurological condition, synesthesia, that enables hear to actually hear color and see music.  There are always artists coming and going at the Fleischmann house, and when serving dinner one evening, Hanna meets Wassily Kandinsky — a man who would one day become “her artist.”

Kelly Jones tells Hanna’s story over a period of decades, beginning with her bonding with Moses Fleischmann over art, their eventual marriage, and their success as art dealers, and following her through the world wars.  Much of the book is set during the Nazi party’s rise to power, setting the stage for what would become World War II.  Through Hanna’s eyes, we see Germany’s economy fall apart, how Hitler’s promises of prosperity garnered him support, and how swiftly Hanna’s life fell apart when the Jewish businesses were targeted.

But the focus of The Woman Who Heard Color is on the art.  Jones moves the story back and forth from the past to the present, where art detective Lauren O’Farrell is seeking answers about Hanna’s involvement with the Nazis.  Through Isabella Fletcher, Hanna’s daughter, Lauren hopes to find out whether Hanna collaborated with the Nazis to steal, sell, and even destroy what Hitler termed “degenerate art.”  At the same time, Isabella longs to tell the truth about her mother, and in doing so, Lauren gets wrapped up in the story of a painting that no one knew survived the war.

I wasn’t sure what to make of The Woman Who Heard Color when I saw the cover.  To be honest, I think it does the book a disservice, making it look like nothing more than a romance novel when romance really isn’t part of this story.  It does little to convey the passion Hanna had for art and all the colors and sounds that defined her life.

Still, I loved The Woman Who Heard Color.  From all of the World War II documentaries I’ve watched, I knew Hitler fancied himself an artist, but I didn’t know too much about his push to preserve “German” art (basically meaning depictions of hard-working Aryans, at least that’s what I got from this book) and rid the country of the art he found useless, meaningless, and obscene.  The history grabbed my attention from the start, but to anyone who knows me and my reading tastes, that’s not much of a surprise.  I also loved Hanna.  She was such a complicated character, always having to balance her love of family with her love of art.  She showed how fearful and difficult it was living under the Nazis and how people were forced to do things against their will for the greater good.

I think Hanna’s story was strong enough to carry the book alone.  When Jones would move back to Isabella and Lauren, I found myself longing to be back with Hanna again.  It’s not that their story wasn’t interesting; it just wasn’t entirely necessary, or at least Lauren didn’t need to be a main character.  Their scenes were few and needed only to bring the story to its conclusion, so I felt that they were not as well developed as Hanna.

The Woman Who Heard Color likely will make my list of favorite reads from this year.  Jones does a great job enabling readers to feel the tension that built up in Germany prior to WWII, and showing the lasting effects on one family made it all the more heartbreaking.  Though the impact of power on art and the passion for preserving creativity are at the forefront, The Woman Who Heard Color is also a story about relationships and how sometimes history conceals the truth.  The Woman Who Heard Color is a must-read for fans of historical fiction set during WWII and for those who are as passionate about art as its main character.

Courtesy of Penguin, I am giving away one copy of The Woman Who Heard Color.  To enter, leave a comment with your e-mail address and tell me why this book interests you.  Because the publisher is shipping the book, this giveaway is open to readers with addresses in the U.S. and Canada only.  You have until 11:59 pm EST on Saturday, December 24, 2011, to enter.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Woman Who Heard Color from Berkley/Penguin for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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