Monday, November 22, 2010

The Wedding: An Encounter with Jan van Eyck (Rees)

The Wedding: An Encounter with Jan van Eyck by Elizabeth M. Rees captivated me from the first few pages. Eighth grades girls are sure to love reading this book set in the 1400s in northern Europe. Major scenes in Bruges, Belgium and Lyon, France acquaint the reader with late medieval life.

The story is fiction and appears all-too-familiarly Romeo and Juliet-ish. Even an Amazon reviewer commented thusly. Yet, when you think about it, life then was probably not too different from that: arranged marriages for business purposes, ongoing feuds between families, potions used for covert and deceptive purposes.

Most of the story's characters are fictional, too. But Jan van Eyck is not. He's not as prominent of a character as I had hoped, but he's there, playing the positions he played in real life. I loved learning how oil paints were made and how wedding portraits where done in medieval times. The details we find odd in the Arnolfini Wedding portrait --the oranges, the shoes, the mirror-- are explained, whether or not that's why those details were included is the author's license. But the story does illuminate much I would not have known otherwise.

Another aspect of the book that I liked, and why I like historical fiction, is how much it painted the landscape of Flemish business and trade, and how the descriptions give a picture of what Bruges looked like. A book
that, or rather, the author who can cause me see the landscape in my imagination and embed me as an invisible bystander is one I want to read.

I got the book to put in my classroom library but decided to read it first. I'm glad I did because the author includes a few dicey sections of what you think will be immoral behavior during the climax of the story. These few paragraphs describe typical natural emotions and physical feelings common to young girls toward who they think is the love-of-their-life. Nothing blatant happens. But you hold your breath thinking that it will. On the contrary, the protagonist of the story,
Giovanna, is intent that she remain virtuous and honorable which, I believe, is the beginning of triumph in the story.

In the end --general spoiler here-- , Giovanna learns what real love is. The ending is touching and triumphant . . . making a choice to learn to love. This surpasses those few dicey parts and makes the story worth reading.

Eighth grade girls should like this book. It will touch real aspects of their personal lives, and it should encourage prudent and chaste behavior. If concerned, that part is on page 181 and continues to the middle of page 183.

I would like to read more of the books in the Art Encounters series though I know all too well that there's "Too many books, not enough time."
Just started reading The List (C. D. Baker) and am already fascinated by beautiful writing and vivid descriptions.

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