I don’t know what I was expecting from The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro, but I got more than I was expecting. I really enjoyed reading it. It tell a great story that weaves fact with fiction, and history with intrigue. I had feared it would veer too much to the behind the scenes, inside of gossip of the art world, but instead it invented a world of secrets, lies and mystery.
The Muralist focuses on a fictional artist, Alizee Benoit and her involvement in the WPA in the late 1930s. She rubbed shoulders (and more) with all the important New York artists that we now associate with that time – Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and William De Kooning – and her life gives the reader insight into the make-work projects that stifled the creative impulses of artists but also gave them money to survive through the Depression.
The real intrigue, however, comes from Benoit’s attempts to free her Jewish family from France in the years leading up to WWII. The Muralist shows how prevalent antisemitism was in the United States and how difficult it was to get people out of Europe. And of course her struggle is depicted in her art in really interesting ways.
Who would like this book? As I said, I’m surprised by how much I liked The Muralist. Shapiro knows how to weave facts and fiction together to make a great story. I’d recommend it to anyone who just likes a good story, or is interested in the early years of WWII in the United States. The insight into the art scene in New York is also really impressive. I remember in 2013 when The Art Forger by Shapiro came out and I’m definitely going to go back and read it.