Mona Lisa

Alexander Lernet-Holenia, trans. from the German by Ignat Avsey. Pushkin, $16 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-78227-190-1
This new translation of prolific Austrian writer Lernet-Holenia's brisk 1937 novella is a special treat for readers who appreciate his unique blend of comedy and philosophy. The young French nobleman Bougainville, while serving on a military campaign in 16th-century Italy, is an improbable guest at Leonardo da Vinci's workshop where he happens to catch a glimpse of the titular painting and falls deeply in love with its subject. The sight of the painting prompts Bougainville's investigation into the current whereabouts of the woman who posed for the painting, and despite hearing that she died of the plague more than a year before, he insists upon seeking her out, having convinced himself in the throes of passion that her husband has faked her death and locked her away as a prisoner. Lernet-Holenia's comical portrayal of da Vinci contributes to the novella's generally whimsical tone. The power of art to inspire love proves to be its true subject, as Bougainville's ultimately tragic quest demonstrates the lamentable difference between reality and mere representation. Lernet-Holenia's entertaining style pairs well with the fast-paced nature of his hero's journey, and readers will delight in following alongside Bougainville as he follows his outsized passion through to the bitter end. (June)
Reviewed on: 08/29/2016
Release date: 06/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
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