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In The Art Student’s War, his sixth novel, Brad Leithauser has brought off a double feat of imagination: a keen and affectionate rendering of an artist as a young woman and a loving historical portrait of a now-vanished Detroit in its heyday. The story opens on a sunny spring day as a pretty woman, in a crowded wartime city, climbs aboard a streetcar. She is heading home, In The Art Student’s War, his sixth novel, Brad Leithauser has brought off a double feat of imagination: a keen and affectionate rendering of an artist as a young woman and a loving historical portrait of a now-vanished Detroit in its heyday. The story opens on a sunny spring day as a pretty woman, in a crowded wartime city, climbs aboard a streetcar. She is heading home, where another war—a domestic war—is about to erupt. The year is 1943. Our heroine, Bianca Paradiso, is eighteen and an art student. She goes by Bea with friends and family, but she is Bianca in that world of private ambition where she dreams of creating canvases deserving of space on a museum’s walls. She is determined to observe everything, and there is much to see in a thriving, sleepless city where automobile production has been halted in favor of fighter planes and tanks, and where wounded soldiers have begun to appear with disturbing frequency. The glorious pursuit of art and the harrowing pursuit of military victory eventually merge when Bea is asked to draw portraits of wounded young soldiers in a local hospital. Suddenly, bewilderingly, she must deal with lives maimed at their outset, and with headlong romantic yearnings that demand more of her than she feels prepared to give. And she must do so at a time when dangerous revelations—emotional detonations—are occurring in her own family. Rich, humorous, and grippingly written, The Art Student’s War is Leithauser’s finest novel to date—a view both global and intimate in its portrayal of one family caught up in the personal and national drama of the Second World War.


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In The Art Student’s War, his sixth novel, Brad Leithauser has brought off a double feat of imagination: a keen and affectionate rendering of an artist as a young woman and a loving historical portrait of a now-vanished Detroit in its heyday. The story opens on a sunny spring day as a pretty woman, in a crowded wartime city, climbs aboard a streetcar. She is heading home, In The Art Student’s War, his sixth novel, Brad Leithauser has brought off a double feat of imagination: a keen and affectionate rendering of an artist as a young woman and a loving historical portrait of a now-vanished Detroit in its heyday. The story opens on a sunny spring day as a pretty woman, in a crowded wartime city, climbs aboard a streetcar. She is heading home, where another war—a domestic war—is about to erupt. The year is 1943. Our heroine, Bianca Paradiso, is eighteen and an art student. She goes by Bea with friends and family, but she is Bianca in that world of private ambition where she dreams of creating canvases deserving of space on a museum’s walls. She is determined to observe everything, and there is much to see in a thriving, sleepless city where automobile production has been halted in favor of fighter planes and tanks, and where wounded soldiers have begun to appear with disturbing frequency. The glorious pursuit of art and the harrowing pursuit of military victory eventually merge when Bea is asked to draw portraits of wounded young soldiers in a local hospital. Suddenly, bewilderingly, she must deal with lives maimed at their outset, and with headlong romantic yearnings that demand more of her than she feels prepared to give. And she must do so at a time when dangerous revelations—emotional detonations—are occurring in her own family. Rich, humorous, and grippingly written, The Art Student’s War is Leithauser’s finest novel to date—a view both global and intimate in its portrayal of one family caught up in the personal and national drama of the Second World War.

30 review for The Art Student's War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I struggled through this book and have been puzzling over why I found it so flat. It is set in Detroit in the 40's, perhaps the heyday of the city. As my hometown, I wanted it to feel warm and familiar; it didn't. The principal character is an art student at a school reminiscent of one I am very familiar with; that didn't resonate either. But those are small complaints that would have dissolved if I became lost in the world of the novel, which I never did. I think my frustration stems from the fa I struggled through this book and have been puzzling over why I found it so flat. It is set in Detroit in the 40's, perhaps the heyday of the city. As my hometown, I wanted it to feel warm and familiar; it didn't. The principal character is an art student at a school reminiscent of one I am very familiar with; that didn't resonate either. But those are small complaints that would have dissolved if I became lost in the world of the novel, which I never did. I think my frustration stems from the fact that the "art student" was touted as such a perceptive "girl" and, in reality, as the 500 pp book developed, she never emerged as much more than a narcissistic beauty. In a nutshell, I felt she lacked character and to slog through 500 pages of her angst was very dreary and disappointing for me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    KOMET

    Some years ago, at what was once my favorite bookstore (BORDERS), I purchased this book. I was gratified to know that someone had written a novel in which --- as was spelled out on the back cover --- Detroit would occupy center stage. For it is the city in which I was born and spent half my life before forging a new start and career out East. In truth, "The Art Student's War" (which begins in late May 1943 on a Woodward Avenue streetcar in which a young woman returning home from art school catch Some years ago, at what was once my favorite bookstore (BORDERS), I purchased this book. I was gratified to know that someone had written a novel in which --- as was spelled out on the back cover --- Detroit would occupy center stage. For it is the city in which I was born and spent half my life before forging a new start and career out East. In truth, "The Art Student's War" (which begins in late May 1943 on a Woodward Avenue streetcar in which a young woman returning home from art school catches the eye of a wounded, black-haired GI with matinee-idol looks hobbling on crutches as he disembarks) reads more like a play with dashes of magical realism interspersed. The principal players in this novel are in the Paradiso family, from which, Bianca, the oldest child of 3 (known affectionately as "Bea" or "Bia" by her father Ludovico, an Italian emigrant who had arrived in the U.S. 30 years earlier with his parents) stands out. She's an aspiring artist at the Institute Midwest, which specialized in Fine Arts and Industrial Arts. One day, Bea's teacher offers her the opportunity to make visits to one of the city's largest hospitals, and draw portraits of the wounded soldiers there, as well as offer them some good cheer. For Bea, who is a highly emotional sort, this presents a big challenge. But one she does not shrink from because it also offers an escape from a family that seems poised to fall apart. Bea is attuned to the rhythms of a wartime city, which, while prospering, is very much in flux. She summons up the courage to face these wounded men and bring some joy back into their lives through capturing their essence in pencil and charcoal. She makes the acquaintance in art school of Ronny Olsson, someone she had fancied for his looks and debonair style, whom she soon learns is the scion of one of Detroit's wealthiest families, and a talented artist in his own right. Frankly, as the novel wore on, I never really felt sure about Ronny Olsson. Sometimes, he rankled me. Other times, he seemed indecisive in his "relationship" with Bia (whom he insisted on calling Bianca) --- and she with him. There is also another short-lived relationship Bia had (virtually concurrent with the one she had with Ronny) with one of the wounded soldiers whose portrait she had rendered in charcoal. All the while, the author gives the reader some feel for Detroit, though he never seemed to get into the heart and guts of the city for me. Passages like the following, while heartening to read, ultimately left me wanting more: "... the whole of Detroit was a single machine. ... This was the town where the Iliad met Henry Ford. The assembly lines were running twenty-four hours a day, the overburdened railroads were clanking in and out of the city, and she, Bianca Paradiso, portfolio under her arm, was a piece of it all: ..." "No city on earth had ever fought a war the way this city was fighting: it had become democracy's true arsenal. It was bearing the burden of a dream born perhaps in Ancient Greece: the governed shall govern. And future historians would recognize that the War's authentic center had lain not in London, or even in Washington, but here ... in Michigan, in DETROIT." I admit to perhaps having overly high expectations about this novel, upon which the author failed to deliver. He touches upon the June 20th, 1943 race riot (one of the worst in the city's history -- I remember well some of what my Mom --- who was in her early teens in 1943 --- told me about that tragic event) only sketchily. I thought, from what the back cover had hinted at that the riot itself would play a prominent part in the novel. That simply didn't happen. Instead the reader witnesses the ups and downs of a family which reads like a melodrama whose parts don't always mix well. As a reader, I felt I could see the rotors, nuts and bolts of the novel, which tended to obscure the novel itself at times. For example, Chapter XXV should have been left out - period. Nevertheless, I am glad to have read this novel. I'm now in search of the novel this spring that will thrill and absorb me, leaving me wanting MORE.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    I loved the first half of this book, and I was all set to give it 4 stars. The first half tells the story of Bianca Paradiso, a young art student living in 1940s Detroit, who is asked to make portraits of soldiers recovering at the local hospital. I loved the descriptions of the time and the place and the people Bianca met. In the short Part 2, however, the book seemed to reach its natural conclusion. Characters seem to somehow "remember" events that happen years later: so-and-so dies, such-and- I loved the first half of this book, and I was all set to give it 4 stars. The first half tells the story of Bianca Paradiso, a young art student living in 1940s Detroit, who is asked to make portraits of soldiers recovering at the local hospital. I loved the descriptions of the time and the place and the people Bianca met. In the short Part 2, however, the book seemed to reach its natural conclusion. Characters seem to somehow "remember" events that happen years later: so-and-so dies, such-and-such have children, etc. Then, in part 3, suddenly it is the early 1950s, and Bianca is leading an entirely different life from the life she led in the first section of the book. It made no sense, after all the beautiful day-to-day descriptions of the first section, to suddenly jump ahead like that. So here I stopped reading, and decided to mentally end the book with the strange foreshadowing of the middle section. A very disappointing novel, after such a promising beginning!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This book tells the story of an 18 year old art student during and after World War II in Detroit. I was drawn to this book, because I expected the young woman's story to coincide somehow with the changes that affected that city in the second half of the twentieth century. Perhaps I was expecting another Middlesex. But while the book does involve the rich description of the city, there doesn't seem to be a larger point about the evolution of that particular place. And the story itself seems to pl This book tells the story of an 18 year old art student during and after World War II in Detroit. I was drawn to this book, because I expected the young woman's story to coincide somehow with the changes that affected that city in the second half of the twentieth century. Perhaps I was expecting another Middlesex. But while the book does involve the rich description of the city, there doesn't seem to be a larger point about the evolution of that particular place. And the story itself seems to plug along without a lot of plot. In fact, the major conflict in the story involves two characters that the reader doesn't really hear from (the mom and her sister). In the end, reading this book was kind of like eating an entire bag of potato chips -- tasty at first, but then you wonder why you had to go and finish it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Wingo

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Oh lord where do I even begin? Okay I had a really hard time with this book I could not connect with the characters or the story. I really tried and I kept hoping that something would finally click and it would suddenly become interesting to me, but alas no. Oh lord where do I even begin? Okay I had a really hard time with this book I could not connect with the characters or the story. I really tried and I kept hoping that something would finally click and it would suddenly become interesting to Oh lord where do I even begin? Okay I had a really hard time with this book I could not connect with the characters or the story. I really tried and I kept hoping that something would finally click and it would suddenly become interesting to me, but alas no. Oh lord where do I even begin? Okay I had a really hard time with this book I could not connect with the characters or the story. I really tried and I kept hoping that something would finally click and it would suddenly become interesting to me, but alas no.****if you found that infuriatingly repetitive you've got an idea of what this book is like to read***** There were just so many things that did not work for me in this book. None of the characters seemed real, the author would constantly tell rather than show, and in spite of the fact that quite a few things happened which ought to have been very important nothing ever really seemed to have high enough stakes for me to bother caring. The author's tendency to constantly repeat himself drove me crazy, "Yes I remember reading about that two chapters ago why are we completely retelling it as if I hadn't just read it?" And good lord the unyielding abuse of exposition! SHOW ME DON"T TELL ME! at the end of "book one" I was teetering between a rating of 2 and 3. The book was only okay for me I was extremely bored with it, but I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt. But then we have the weird fevered speed through of events in "book two" only to jump at least 8 years into the future in "book three" where our main character who I already felt totally unconnected to is suddenly married to some guy never once mentioned in the first 286 pages of the book. By the time I was done with this book I felt giving it a 2 would be extremely generous in reality it is maybe a 1 1/2 for me. Honestly I'm utterly stumped by this book, it just seems like such a strange rambling directionless attempt at a story. I am totally baffled at the all of the positive ratings that this book as received.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chuck

    The Art Student's War offers a sweeping panoramic view of Detroit during World War II and the decade that followed. Brad Leithauser spins a convincing narrative around his protagonist, Bianca ("Bea") Paradiso, first seen as an art student who is eventually recruited to to produce drawings of wounded soldiers. Like most others, Bea's family and small circle of friends have their joys, tensions, and dark little secrets. Leithauser, who was born in Detroit, adroitly supplies a wealth of historica The Art Student's War offers a sweeping panoramic view of Detroit during World War II and the decade that followed. Brad Leithauser spins a convincing narrative around his protagonist, Bianca ("Bea") Paradiso, first seen as an art student who is eventually recruited to to produce drawings of wounded soldiers. Like most others, Bea's family and small circle of friends have their joys, tensions, and dark little secrets. Leithauser, who was born in Detroit, adroitly supplies a wealth of historically convincing detail, and his characters are sharply drawn. However, his writing lacks the power that one might expect from a poet who has published multiple volumes, and the book would have benefited from an editor unafraid of making cuts (Part II, for example, is a gratuitous and self-conscious attempt to describe a feverish phantasmagoria). For an evocation of bygone Detroit, along with a more compelling story, the obvious alternative is Middlesex. Nevertheless, Leithauser's leisurely tale is entertaining even if not gripping. Traditionally assembled, it will surely appeal much more to fans of Dickens than DeLillo.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kem White

    “The Art Student's War" is a delightful book, bringing to life the story of Bianca Paradiso, who comes of age during World War II and the decade after. Leithauser's rich prose gives the reader a nearly pitch perfect rendering of Bianca, her family and friends, and her hometown – Detroit - during its heyday of growth and manufacturing prowess. I admit, had it not been set in my hometown, I probably would not have been drawn to this book. The heroine is an 18-year-old girl yearning to be an artist. “The Art Student's War" is a delightful book, bringing to life the story of Bianca Paradiso, who comes of age during World War II and the decade after. Leithauser's rich prose gives the reader a nearly pitch perfect rendering of Bianca, her family and friends, and her hometown – Detroit - during its heyday of growth and manufacturing prowess. I admit, had it not been set in my hometown, I probably would not have been drawn to this book. The heroine is an 18-year-old girl yearning to be an artist. She volunteers in a hospital drawing portraits of wounded soldiers. She lives with her family. It is not, on the surface, a "guy" book. But what a treat it is. The characters are vividly realized, 3-dimensional, and well developed. For some, the story is probably understated and perhaps unfocused. But most will savor the story, as Bianca fights the wars in her life. Really a 4-and-a-half star book, “The Art Student’s War” is recommended for anyone who enjoys strong character development and a story well-told. It is especially recommended for anyone who lived in Detroit during its mid-20th century height and is saddened at how far it has fallen.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Elise

    The story is captivating as well as unique. What i loved best about The Art Student's War was Leithauser's honesty in portraying life as it really is. He manages to convince readers that we are in fact inside the characters' heads, seeing their world, feeling their emotions. His characterization includes special nuances that bring each character to life. Bianca, the protaganist, and her mother, both have certain habits and rituals that we later recognize as O.C.D. but Leithauser never has to nam The story is captivating as well as unique. What i loved best about The Art Student's War was Leithauser's honesty in portraying life as it really is. He manages to convince readers that we are in fact inside the characters' heads, seeing their world, feeling their emotions. His characterization includes special nuances that bring each character to life. Bianca, the protaganist, and her mother, both have certain habits and rituals that we later recognize as O.C.D. but Leithauser never has to name it or define it in certain terms, he allows the reader to make the discovery. As a third generation Detroiter myself, this story brought to life Detroit as it must have been back in the 1940s. The only weakness is that it became a little soap-opera like at times.... especially when he wrapped everything up a little too neatly.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Marcy Heller

    For some reason, I go out of my way to read books that take place in Detroit. The city, in its heyday during the 40s and 50s, when it was known as the "Paris of the Midwest" and the "arsenal of Democracy" is the star of this great read. Leithauser presents a cast of interesting characters, a long laundry list of Detroit neighborhoods, restaurants, parks, and a lot of Detroit history packed into what is otherwise a perceptive psychological novel. Woven through Leithauser's tale is also a tour of For some reason, I go out of my way to read books that take place in Detroit. The city, in its heyday during the 40s and 50s, when it was known as the "Paris of the Midwest" and the "arsenal of Democracy" is the star of this great read. Leithauser presents a cast of interesting characters, a long laundry list of Detroit neighborhoods, restaurants, parks, and a lot of Detroit history packed into what is otherwise a perceptive psychological novel. Woven through Leithauser's tale is also a tour of many of the masterpieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The story squarely addresses the bigotry ingrained in the culture of the 40s which somehow presages the downfall of the city in the 60s. I forgive the author for renaming Cunningham's Drug Store for his novel's purposes, and changing a few street names, as he preserved enough of each neighborhood that one could take pleasure in recognizing everything else While reading, I was constantly reminded of many stories I had heard from my parents' generation as well as images I still remember of what was then a great city when I was a youngster in the 50s. I remember the disappearing streetcars (although in my mind the ones on Grand River remained long after Woodward's disappeared), the huge migration to suburbs precipitated by the construction of the country's first shopping mall but then further exacerbated by white flight after the riots in 1967. I was reminded of meeting friends under the Kern clock, drinking Faygo pop, having tuna sandwiches at Sanders (they had special trays for kids) and going to Hudson's wearing gloves just as easily as I can imagine my very cool 90-year old aunt, who was a flamboyant art student in the 40s as the main character, facing racism, anti-Semitism and pondering the place of art in a world at war. I can easily imagine my immigrant grandparents as Bea's parents, my grandfather, as her father was, an intelligent but uneducated man, my aunt's older sister an unforgiving character (forgive me mother), while the world was on the cusp of war, and Detroit our nation's beacon of hope. I remember how great a city Detroit was during my childhood, how proud my parents were of the city of their youth. It would do honor to our city if Leithauser would write a sequel--perhaps move some of his characters to the suburbs, while leaving others to fight it out in a city abandoned for too long, when all money and resources flowed with white flight out of the city, while a new black middle class arose. Leithauser presaged the downfall of the city, but I would love him to write about Detroit in its latest reincarnation as a city that has risen again. Mostly, I hope he writes that novel because I love to read good books that take place in a city I love but that few outsiders know or appreciate.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Wax

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. For me, the best part of this book is the way it brings Detroit alive in 1943, and later 1953. Having lived there until age 3, I realized I knew little about it during its heyday. I found the art student, Bea (Bianca) Paradiso, to be an interesting, colorful character--at least at first. Her job was drawing portraits of injured soldiers. I'd have given the book 5 stars--despite too much repetition--but after reading the last chapter, I had to keep that last star for myself. Not only were the same For me, the best part of this book is the way it brings Detroit alive in 1943, and later 1953. Having lived there until age 3, I realized I knew little about it during its heyday. I found the art student, Bea (Bianca) Paradiso, to be an interesting, colorful character--at least at first. Her job was drawing portraits of injured soldiers. I'd have given the book 5 stars--despite too much repetition--but after reading the last chapter, I had to keep that last star for myself. Not only were the same conversations repeated over and over (ie. How's Edith? How's your brother? How's?" -- stuff that is usually left out or edited out), but the ending seemed slapped on and trite, as if this prolific, talented author had other stuff to do and just needed an ending... How could Bea, who is somewhat psychic and intensely observant, not have guessed what would happen? Readers do, and so does her family, and it just doesn't make sense that Bea would be so in-the-dark. Even if she had some sort of block...why??? When Bea is finally enlightened, the reader gets no satisfaction--just a "so what?" And the characters, who started out interesting and well-rounded, become flat and predictable. (Especially Uncle Dennis.) But I did love the book and would highly recommend it--especially to former Detroiters. It's dense, original, and fun to be in the middle of.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Vivian Valvano

    I read it for one of my library book clubs. For awhile, I really liked it. A large part of it takes place in Detroit during WW II, and I enjoyed learning about Detroit at that time. It's one of our most broken and forgotten cities now, but it was so important then, especially in terms of industry. The narrative is straight realism, no experimentation or attempts to dazzle with special writerly effects, so it's basically an easy read. Major problem: when the narrative moved beyond WW II and jumpe I read it for one of my library book clubs. For awhile, I really liked it. A large part of it takes place in Detroit during WW II, and I enjoyed learning about Detroit at that time. It's one of our most broken and forgotten cities now, but it was so important then, especially in terms of industry. The narrative is straight realism, no experimentation or attempts to dazzle with special writerly effects, so it's basically an easy read. Major problem: when the narrative moved beyond WW II and jumped forward to the mid 50s, the power of the novel simply stalled. The lives of the protagonist, Bianca (Bea), and her family and friends/possible lovers were much more interesting during the WW II pages than later. Especially interesting during the war was Bianca's drawing of portraits of soldiers at a Detroit hospital and the effects this project had on her life. But the last third of the novel or so just grew tedious. I got the feeling that Leithauser lost his way and didn't know what to do with his story. What a shame after such a promising beginning.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    In this coming-of-age story of Bianca (Bea) Paradiso, an art student in wartime and post-war Detroit, Leithauser succeeds in vividly evoking a world gone by. The characters -- Bea's immediate and extended family, her fellow art students, the soldiers she encounters when she spends time in the local hospital sketching portraits to cheer up the troops -- feel precisely right. But the book is more than just a snapshot of a moment; the characters grow and change over the course of the novel, none mo In this coming-of-age story of Bianca (Bea) Paradiso, an art student in wartime and post-war Detroit, Leithauser succeeds in vividly evoking a world gone by. The characters -- Bea's immediate and extended family, her fellow art students, the soldiers she encounters when she spends time in the local hospital sketching portraits to cheer up the troops -- feel precisely right. But the book is more than just a snapshot of a moment; the characters grow and change over the course of the novel, none more so than Bea herself, whom Leithauser shows us negotiating the passage from a blue-collar background to post-war prosperity. I found the last third of the book, the treatment of Bea's marriage, less compelling than the initial section. But this is a terrific novel from a gifted stylist -- well worth reading.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    This book had so much promise. The first third was pretty good. Loved the premise of art students painting portraits of wounded WWII soldiers. But then it just turned into a story about one clueless girl's life. In the middle there was a huge jump in the timeline of about 7 or 8 years ... and what happened during those years was never filled in. Since this ended up being a tale about this girl's love life and relationships and that was the time when she met and married her husband, I thought tha This book had so much promise. The first third was pretty good. Loved the premise of art students painting portraits of wounded WWII soldiers. But then it just turned into a story about one clueless girl's life. In the middle there was a huge jump in the timeline of about 7 or 8 years ... and what happened during those years was never filled in. Since this ended up being a tale about this girl's love life and relationships and that was the time when she met and married her husband, I thought that was rather critical information that was skipped. If you live in the Detroit area you will appreciate all the local references, but other than that I would say skip this tale. Not much food for thought here.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Iva

    Brad Leithauser has written a compelling novel about Detroit during WW II and peopled it with wonderfully engaging characters. Each one makes for a rich reading experience. The protagonist is Bea (Bianca) an art student who draws portraits of hospitalized soldiers injured in the war. Of course she becomes involved with one and she is also dating an art student from a prominent Detroit family. Those familiar with Detroit will enjoy the details of past restaurants, landmarks, etc. The 2nd half of Brad Leithauser has written a compelling novel about Detroit during WW II and peopled it with wonderfully engaging characters. Each one makes for a rich reading experience. The protagonist is Bea (Bianca) an art student who draws portraits of hospitalized soldiers injured in the war. Of course she becomes involved with one and she is also dating an art student from a prominent Detroit family. Those familiar with Detroit will enjoy the details of past restaurants, landmarks, etc. The 2nd half of the novel brings us a post-war Detroit. Leithauser based his story on his mother-in-law, who also drew portraits of soldiers. A solid and multilayered read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bookmarks Magazine

    Reactions to The Art Student's War were decidedly mixed. On the one hand, there is Leithauser's lyrical prose, hopeful message, and passionate coming-of-age story. On the other hand, the novel is hampered by long-winded writing, a disappointing ending, and a heroine who is entirely too obtuse. Bea just isn't someone we can get behind, and the novel loses steam during the long, long ending. But Leithauser effectively captures the once-thriving Motor City, so if Detroit is part of your past, this Reactions to The Art Student's War were decidedly mixed. On the one hand, there is Leithauser's lyrical prose, hopeful message, and passionate coming-of-age story. On the other hand, the novel is hampered by long-winded writing, a disappointing ending, and a heroine who is entirely too obtuse. Bea just isn't someone we can get behind, and the novel loses steam during the long, long ending. But Leithauser effectively captures the once-thriving Motor City, so if Detroit is part of your past, this is a novel to consider. This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Travis

    I picked up this book at a Goodwill and purchased because it was set in Detroit during more prosperous times. The first section of the novel was not life-altering but it was a good story that i was happy to be reading. The novel was following the coming-of-age of Bianca Paradiso during World War II. However, there was a short middle sections that was filled with foreshadowing (or more plainly, spoilers) that seemed wholly unnecessary. The next portion of the novel took place a few years in the f I picked up this book at a Goodwill and purchased because it was set in Detroit during more prosperous times. The first section of the novel was not life-altering but it was a good story that i was happy to be reading. The novel was following the coming-of-age of Bianca Paradiso during World War II. However, there was a short middle sections that was filled with foreshadowing (or more plainly, spoilers) that seemed wholly unnecessary. The next portion of the novel took place a few years in the future giving the main characters more seasoning. This section was insufferably dull and was overflowing with the characters reflections on past events.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    groan! melodramatic sentimental account of a young girl's coming of age, disguised as a WWII/ Detroit history tale. spare yourselves- i had to finish this one as part of a book club, otherwise, I don't know if I would have made it through Part 1 of the novel. if you want Detroit, read Middlesex instead. groan! melodramatic sentimental account of a young girl's coming of age, disguised as a WWII/ Detroit history tale. spare yourselves- i had to finish this one as part of a book club, otherwise, I don't know if I would have made it through Part 1 of the novel. if you want Detroit, read Middlesex instead.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    I hated all the characters and found that this book rang really false to me. I quit about halfway through.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Where's a good editor when you need one? I really, really wanted to like this book. It's about my home state of Michigan, it's about the Detroit my mom talked about from the 1940s, and it's about a young art student. And the main character of Bianca Paradiso? She's like most 18-year-olds who struggle to figure out how the world works and her place in that world. The writing is excellent and the descriptions of Detroit captivating; however, there is a major flaw. 200+ pages into the book at the en Where's a good editor when you need one? I really, really wanted to like this book. It's about my home state of Michigan, it's about the Detroit my mom talked about from the 1940s, and it's about a young art student. And the main character of Bianca Paradiso? She's like most 18-year-olds who struggle to figure out how the world works and her place in that world. The writing is excellent and the descriptions of Detroit captivating; however, there is a major flaw. 200+ pages into the book at the end of Part Two, Bianca is deathly ill. Flip a couple of pages to start Part Three and you've advanced in time seven years and Bianca is married with children. It makes no sense. Someone should have told author Leithauser to finish the storyline of ill Bianca, and save all of Part Three for a potential second book. Or is Part Three a dream? I really don't know what it's even doing here.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michael A. Van Kerckhove

    I loved the Detroit setting, the period, how art (and the DIA!) were integral to the story. I had a reference point/visual/etc. for pretty much every street and landmark mentioned (and sometimes mentioned so casually that I wondered if a non-Detroiter would miss something). Even the hospital where I was born got a nod. I liked learning about this family. Still, it didn't quite gel for me. Maybe it was Bia's melodrama that other reviewers mentioned. I also wondered where it was all GOING. Going i I loved the Detroit setting, the period, how art (and the DIA!) were integral to the story. I had a reference point/visual/etc. for pretty much every street and landmark mentioned (and sometimes mentioned so casually that I wondered if a non-Detroiter would miss something). Even the hospital where I was born got a nod. I liked learning about this family. Still, it didn't quite gel for me. Maybe it was Bia's melodrama that other reviewers mentioned. I also wondered where it was all GOING. Going in, I thought the story would focus even more on Bia's interactions with the soldiers she drew--I suppose I wanted more of that. I liked and appreciated the book, but I wanted to love it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sjfstudio

    I picked this book up because of the title and was happy that I did so. Bea, a young art student in Detroit during the 1940's, struggles to find her way through life, love and working at her art. I sense there is a lot of the author's real family history interwoven in this story and the picture he paints of Detroit, the Motor City, during the hectic days of WWII. I picked this book up because of the title and was happy that I did so. Bea, a young art student in Detroit during the 1940's, struggles to find her way through life, love and working at her art. I sense there is a lot of the author's real family history interwoven in this story and the picture he paints of Detroit, the Motor City, during the hectic days of WWII.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    It went in a direction I did not expect.

  23. 5 out of 5

    jimtown

    I chose this book because it was set in 1940's + Detroit and it was about an aspiring artist, or so I thought. This is actually the story of a family, living in Detroit, as told throughout the life of our art student, Bianca. It is interesting to see the family dynamics here but Bianca is overly sensitive and little things get built into traumatic events for her. There are some rock solid influences in her father, and most especially, her Uncle Dennis who practically single handedly saves the fam I chose this book because it was set in 1940's + Detroit and it was about an aspiring artist, or so I thought. This is actually the story of a family, living in Detroit, as told throughout the life of our art student, Bianca. It is interesting to see the family dynamics here but Bianca is overly sensitive and little things get built into traumatic events for her. There are some rock solid influences in her father, and most especially, her Uncle Dennis who practically single handedly saves the family from every crisis. It's true that Bianca is an art student. She is asked to make sketches of some of the boys that come back from war. This is the most touching time of her life as she is so very young herself and these soldiers have a big impact on her. We meet a several of Bianca's love interests before suddenly jumping to her being married with twin boys. It was an awkward transition but I kept going. The 'art student's war' was actually a family torn apart by jealousy and resentment. It's Bianca's mother who feels her husband is in love with Uncle Dennis's wife, Grace who happens to be her beautiful younger sister. Toward the end, in the third part, life was rehashed over and over, the good, the bad and the rough patches. That got a little monotonous for the reader, but I liked how everyone's life was sewn up so neatly at the end, because I'm just that way, I hope for the best for everyone.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Overall, I liked it enough. It was well written, with moments of beautiful description. Part of the reason I found it endearing was the fact that it took place in Detroit, so I recognized many of the streets and found connection there. My main problem was the protagonist. There were times when I just didn't like her much, and times I found her unsympathetic. When that hurdle presented itself, I found it hard to enjoy the book. The other characters were also often underdeveloped, mere sketches of Overall, I liked it enough. It was well written, with moments of beautiful description. Part of the reason I found it endearing was the fact that it took place in Detroit, so I recognized many of the streets and found connection there. My main problem was the protagonist. There were times when I just didn't like her much, and times I found her unsympathetic. When that hurdle presented itself, I found it hard to enjoy the book. The other characters were also often underdeveloped, mere sketches of what they could be, despite the author's attempts to make them flesh and blood. They were well written, but occasionally would be revealed to be a slightly flat and vague. Some motivation was a mystery, which could be frustrating. For while many people's motivation is often a mystery in real life, it doesn't necessarily have to in fiction, and I felt that Leithauser could have made his characters' motivation and histories stand out in the light a little more, instead of hiding in shadow. I also didn't like how the book jumped ahead nine years at the start of the second part, but I am always irked with things like that. Call it my insatiable curiosity; I always want to know what happened in the meantime, and how it developed. Despite this, I did enjoy the book, and found it interesting. It's definitely worth s read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kricket

    this book covers a wide span of years in the life of bianca "bea" paradiso as she comes of age in detroit during world war 2. an art student, bea is selected to sketch portraits of wounded soldiers staying in a local hospital. the first half of the book describes her love for one of the soldiers (dutch american henry van den akker) as well as her relationship with a fellow art student, and some surrounding family drama. the second half of the book puts us seven years into bianca's marriage and f this book covers a wide span of years in the life of bianca "bea" paradiso as she comes of age in detroit during world war 2. an art student, bea is selected to sketch portraits of wounded soldiers staying in a local hospital. the first half of the book describes her love for one of the soldiers (dutch american henry van den akker) as well as her relationship with a fellow art student, and some surrounding family drama. the second half of the book puts us seven years into bianca's marriage and focuses on the way bianca's current life is affected by the events in the first half. the reading is by no means fast-paced, but definitely worthwhile. bianca as a character is overemotional and at times self-destructive, but i identified with her in some ways, and appreciated her imperfections. what really made the book for me, however, are the descriptions of detroit in the forties and fifties- deeply fascinating to read about in a time when things are so different. if you enjoyed this aspect of "middlesex" by eugenides, it might be worth picking up "the art student's war" for the setting alone. fun fact: i, like bianca, once dated someone with the unwieldy dutch surname "van den akker." maybe that's another reason i liked the book so much.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kat Hagedorn

    http://tinyurl.com/6gajxcb Lordy. If this is the latest, greatest nostalgic look at Detroit as the city-it-was, then what is this world coming to?? Leithauser may be a well-renowned writing teacher and author, but I believe he has failed in a large way with this ode to his mother and her childhood in Detroit. I think it's safe to say that if you, an author, are going to write something coming from a deeply personal space, you better make sure you're able to step back and view it objectively after http://tinyurl.com/6gajxcb Lordy. If this is the latest, greatest nostalgic look at Detroit as the city-it-was, then what is this world coming to?? Leithauser may be a well-renowned writing teacher and author, but I believe he has failed in a large way with this ode to his mother and her childhood in Detroit. I think it's safe to say that if you, an author, are going to write something coming from a deeply personal space, you better make sure you're able to step back and view it objectively after that first draft. There are some truths here (the effect of industrialization, how the war affected those at home, etc.) but in general the overwhelming naivete of the main character is bloody wearing, and very quickly. Oh, the worst thing ever, my mother is a thief, oh, oh! Really? What if your mother were a murderer? Oh, war is hell, it's so hard to go to the hospital and draw portraits of the soldiers, it makes me physically ill sometimes, oh, oh! Really? How do think these mangled soldiers feel themselves? Gawd. Just stupid, stupid writing.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey Torkko

    I enjoyed this book. It had a lot of coming of age drama. The historical setting in WWII Detroit was interesting. I thought there would be more on Bianca's drawing of the soldiers, however despite it being necessary to the plot, it wasn't even a majority of the book. The war Bianca references is less the World War and more the war in her family. It further illustrates the disfunction we all observe in our families while those on the outside think that all is well. The book is full of interesting I enjoyed this book. It had a lot of coming of age drama. The historical setting in WWII Detroit was interesting. I thought there would be more on Bianca's drawing of the soldiers, however despite it being necessary to the plot, it wasn't even a majority of the book. The war Bianca references is less the World War and more the war in her family. It further illustrates the disfunction we all observe in our families while those on the outside think that all is well. The book is full of interesting and believable characters. I appreciate how Brad Leithauser portrays what I think so many people do, remembering things differently than they really happened. So often our feelings are changed based on happenings after an event rather than the event that really happened. I'm specifically thinking of her how Bianca loses her virginity and then remembers the other participant differently than she thought of him that night. I would recommend this to another but would likely not reread it myself.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    I'm happy to find a new author! This one was a great story about a young art student, Bianca Paradiso, in Detroit during World War II. The story takes us through her life over a span of ten years. We see her as she begins to see her mission in the war as drawing the wounded in the local hospital and find her, not only witnessing the drama of the war in Europe, but the drama of the "wars" around her in her family and the relationships around her. Brad Leithauser has the same gift of character deve I'm happy to find a new author! This one was a great story about a young art student, Bianca Paradiso, in Detroit during World War II. The story takes us through her life over a span of ten years. We see her as she begins to see her mission in the war as drawing the wounded in the local hospital and find her, not only witnessing the drama of the war in Europe, but the drama of the "wars" around her in her family and the relationships around her. Brad Leithauser has the same gift of character development that I admire so much in Anne Tyler! As I read, I became fond of the characters and the interactions over the years as the author reveals more and more about them as individuals. He was able to move forward, past the war, and weave the memories and experiences of the main character into a tapestry. I am going to read all of his novels and hope to enjoy them as well.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gayla Bassham

    Really 3 1/2 stars. I'm rounding up because Chanukah starts tonight and I'm feeling generous. If this book had been half as long, it would have been a home run. The first two-thirds are wildly compelling, if windy and in need of editing; the final third is dull and repetitive. If I were the Grand Editor of the Universe, I would cut out some of the underbrush in the first two thirds, chop the final third into an epilogue, and I think we'd have a great novel. I read some reviews complaining about B Really 3 1/2 stars. I'm rounding up because Chanukah starts tonight and I'm feeling generous. If this book had been half as long, it would have been a home run. The first two-thirds are wildly compelling, if windy and in need of editing; the final third is dull and repetitive. If I were the Grand Editor of the Universe, I would cut out some of the underbrush in the first two thirds, chop the final third into an epilogue, and I think we'd have a great novel. I read some reviews complaining about Bea, the main character; I actually liked her and found her sympathetic. I liked most of the characters, actually. The real problem is that Leithauser just kept writing and writing and writing while seemingly unaware that his plot had fizzled to a complete stop.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Wileyacez

    Plot and story alone would have been three stars, but one of the best characters in this book is the Detroit Institute of Arts! I had this book for a while, but never quite realized that the setting was Detroit, Michigan--where I worked for the last five years. I, too, have lunched at the DIA in Kresge Court! Bianca Paradiso is an art student in Detroit during WWII, and this story is about Detroit in the war. It is also about the impending changes coming to Detroit after the war. Finally, it's a Plot and story alone would have been three stars, but one of the best characters in this book is the Detroit Institute of Arts! I had this book for a while, but never quite realized that the setting was Detroit, Michigan--where I worked for the last five years. I, too, have lunched at the DIA in Kresge Court! Bianca Paradiso is an art student in Detroit during WWII, and this story is about Detroit in the war. It is also about the impending changes coming to Detroit after the war. Finally, it's about a family "war" that Bianca has to deal with until its resolution some ten years after the start of the story. The mother in the story sometimes was uncannily like my own, which could be spooky and helped draw me into the book. Overall, pretty darn good read.

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