Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Tessa Bright Wildsmith
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Robert Oliver is an accomplished artist. He has painted for years, taught art at several colleges and has had his worked displayed in some of the best galleries in the nation. He is admired and respected among other artists. So what could drive him to enter the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and attack a painting with a knife? Art is his entire world. Why would he try to destroy his greatest love? Psychiatrist Andrew Marlow is given the task of finding out.

Robert Oliver gives one explanation before retreating into a prolonged silence: “I did it for her.” Who is she? With Robert’s silence, Andrew is left with only the past to give him clues.

Being both intrigued and frustrated by Robert’s refusal to speak, Andrew takes on the task of figuring out Robert Oliver and goes to extraordinary measures to learn about his life. Being an artist himself, Andrew is determined to understand this troubled man.

Andrew finds an in-depth portrait of Robert from the betrayed women he has left in his wake. They describe an artistic genius with the ability to fill the world with love and joy, briefly, before retreating to a dark obsession no one understands.

Then there are the letters. Andrew finds a packet of century-old French letters among Robert’s things. As they are translated, they tell their own personal story about talented artists during the French Impressionist period. Why does Robert have them, and why does he read them daily? Andrew is willing to travel across oceans and back to find answers and help his patient.

Kostova’s storytelling is rich and beautiful. She has a natural gift for drawing you in and taking you across centuries and continents. As in her first novel, “The Historian,” Kostova dives deep into history and expertly weaves it with the present day. For lovers of historical fiction, Kostova will be a favorite.

“The Swan Thieves” is narrated by a variety of voices, and by breaking the book into different narratives and points of view, even at over 500 pages, I got through this book rather quickly. Full of mystery and intrigue, “The Swan Thieves” is interesting and compelling from the first page and hard to put down.

Kostova has jumped head-first into the world of art in “The Swan Thieves” - deeply exploring the creativity and passion, the inspiration and madness. She leaves you with a perfectly-crafted picture inside the mind of a genius and his obsessions.

Have you read “The Swan Thieves?” Discuss your thoughts on the book below.

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