Lisette's List

Susan Vreeland. Random, $27 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6817-3

Vreeland follows Clara and Mr. Tiffany with a lyrical paean to Provence, painting, and the timeless cycle of death and rebirth. In 1937, 20-year-old Lisette Roux must leave her beloved Paris to live with her husband André in the south of France, where they will care for his grandfather, Pascal, in tiny Roussillon. Provincial life is challenging in all but one respect. Lisette has always wanted to work with art, and Pascal, a former artists' pigment salesman, has collected seven extraordinary paintings as well as many tales of artists, which he is eager to share before he dies. His insistence on doing what is most important before it's too late inspires Lisette to create her own list of essential "hungers and vows." Soon after his passing, Germany occupies France. Before leaving to fight, André hides the paintings—Pissaros, Cezannes, and a possible Picasso—in a location he doesn't disclose in fear for Lisette's safety. The years that follow bring small privations, huge losses, the search for the scattered paintings, and the slow resurgence of hope. Early on, Vreeland's narrative lacks compelling suspense or drive, but it picks up once the war begins and the paintings are lost. The novel's heart is its patient interweaving of sensuous, meticulously observed details with themes of forgiveness, female strength, and survival. (Aug.)