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Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Forest Lover by Susan Vreeland

Title: The Forest Lover
Author: Susan Vreeland
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2004
ISBN: 9780143034308

Rating: 4.5 Crowns

The Forest Lover is the story of Canadian artist Emily Carr ( 1871 - 1945). It begins in 1906 as Emily returns to the land of her birth after years of art school in England and  America. Here on the west coast of Vancouver Island she hopes to escape the suffocating conventions of Victorian life and the expectations of her family. She finds freedom and a real sense of belonging on the Indian reserve and forms a close friendship with Sophie, a Squamish basket maker and her growing interest in Indian culture becomes a passion and determination to paint their totem poles, to visually record their symbolism before they are completely decimated.
 Alone or with a single Indian guide she faces the dangers of traveling deep into the British Columbian wilderness to visit isolated , and sometimes hostile villages.
Crying Totem
"This Tanu father cried with wrenching formality for his hapless sons. Whatever it meant to the Haida, to her, this Eagle father also cried for the smallpox dead at Raven House in Cumshewa. He cried for every father's son sent to war. He cried for Sophie's children, and for Sophie. He cried for Haaydzims and Muldo and Tuuns, some Gitksan fathers' sons, for Harold, and for all the beaten, disfigured, lost. His tears shut no one out"..........Chap. 39

As her painting progresses her longing to improve her technique takes her to Paris where she is influenced by the work of new artists like Matisse and Picasso and she returns to British Columbia with renewed determination to paint from the heart of herself, to portray her spiritual belief that  'God breathes in the forest' , to capture the soul of the land in her work.
Red Tree

"As she began to paint, she saw rhythm in the tree's repeated forms, in the upward reach of the trunk furrows, its bare hanging withes reaching down, its laden boughs tangled with those of other trees. In one sweep she united the branches into a mantle of cedars. Her swinging arm became a swoop of greenery, boughs from adjacent trees breathing into each other, supporting each other, all one." Chap. 36

It would be two decades before Emily Carr's work received recognition but today her work is represented in major art galleries all over the world.

I loved every word of The Forest Lover and it is a certainty for one of my favourite historical fiction novels this year. It's always a pleasure to read about someone previously unheard of and Susan Vreeland's feeling for her subject is obvious in the way she captures the spirit of a true artist. The descriptive prose is gorgeous and brings the grandeur and beauty of the Pacific NorthWest vividly to life and the history of the region and the native people was fascinating. Plenty of extras with a map, a conversation with the author and book club questions and a book I'm happy to recommend wholeheartedly.

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