In this week’s Boston Phoenix, I write about a new novel by Brookline Native, Sara Houghteling. Here’s an excerpt:
During World War II, Nazi plunderers focused their greedy eyes on Paris and began looting the city’s artwork — operating according to Hitler’s plan to open a massive, self-aggrandizing museum in Germany. Savvy employees at the Louvre emptied the museum and stashed its paintings in dark basements of the Parisian suburbs. So, the Nazis turned to Jewish art collectors and gallery owners, and used the Jeu de Paume Museum (formerly Napoleon III’s tennis courts) as a depository for their booty.
Rose Valland, a Louvre employee assigned to oversee the Jeu de Paume under the Nazis, kept a secret list of the paintings the Nazis had stolen, where they came from, and where in Germany they were being shipped. After the war, Valland worked to recover the lost artwork and, in the process, became a real-life heroine.
Houghteling is an excellent storyteller, and Pictures excellently weaves fact with fiction – the tragedy of Nazi art-looting, the heartbreak that often comes with early adulthood romances, the struggle for parental acceptance, and the complexities of the art-dealing world.
Houghteling has been a writer and a teacher for about a decade now, and had the time and room of one’s own, as they say, to write Pictures, her debut novel, by virtue of a Fulbright Scholarship, which she used to travel to Paris to research and write this novel. As I mentioned, though, she’s a Brookline native and a Harvard grad, and she freelanced a bit for the Phoenix back in the early naughts. Here’s a funny little piece of hers I stumbled across, detailing the various odd jobs she’s had to take in the process of pursuing her writing dream. Her method of excelling at a telemarketing job, in order to raise funds to travel to Prague for a writer’s workshop, is particulary hilarious:
Mostly I called Southern area codes, so I adopted the slow, syrupy drawl of my college roommate from Arkansas. My success rate crept upward. I changed my name to fit the customer’s business. For florist shops, I was Rose or Lilac. Ophelia dialed the bookstore crone, Prometheana called the fire station, and Mary Catherine rang up churches. Ginger and Candy, my porn-star alter egos and most successful saleswomen, phoned gas stations and hardware stores. These names inspired comments such as “You must be thirsty, Candy. Like a drink of me?” Or “I’m a very dirty man, Miss Ginger. I’d like it if you were dirty for me.”
Read the rest of this piece (and marvel at the Phoenix‘s old web design) here.