In the first of eight short stories which comprise this book, Cornelius Engelbrecht, a withdrawn and secretive mathematics teacher at a boy's school, is moved by a recent death to share a secret that he has kept since boyhood. In a rare moment of reaching out, he asks a colleague to come visit his home and solemnly takes him to a room where a very special painting hangs. The painting is of a girl sitting by an open window sewing buttons on a shirt and the style is that of a Dutch master. Though Engelbrecht can offer no definitive proof, he believes the work was painted by Vermeer and he does his best to make his colleague feel the same certainty that he himself feels after years of researching Vermeer. The other seven short stories take the reader back in time, following the trail that the painting followed prior to becoming an Engelbrech family possession. In each case, the reader is introduced to characters who have many differences, but have all been similarly entranced by the girl in the painting.
One reads this book and is reminded of the power of art and how it can not only give our own lives meaning but also change how we look at the world around us. Vreeland has created a history for this fictitious painting which is truly engaging. Readers who enjoy historical fiction, art, and short stories will love this book's travels through four different centuries linked by one beautiful painting. Readers will find this novel difficult to put down.
Reviewed by aw, 11/01. Other reviews by aw.