"Let the observer look steadfastly on a small colored object and let it be taken away after a time while his eyes remain unmoved. The spectrum of another color will then be visible on the white plane. It arises from an image which now belongs to the eye."This is Goethe's description of a neurological phenomenon which occurs because of the way our visual system perceives color, but it is also a description of the experience of the survivors of the war. When a painting was taken away, when Max loses Rose, or when many millions of lives were obliterated by the Nazis in World War II, those who remained afterward perceived the world anew, as though an afterimage was burned onto the emptiness before them.
This is a first novel so naturally it offers the occasional self conscious moment, and I remained unconvinced by the excessively chaste and romanticized desire of young Max, but mostly I found Sara Houghteling's prose assured and the scope of her book most impressive. It encompasses history in a real setting and some real people, a love of art, a bildungsroman, some excellent and surprising plotting. Complex ideas about the loss of loved things and loved people, and what drives a sense of purpose in a moral life gives it its center.
Here is my other post about Pictures at an Exhibition.