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The Anatomy Lesson    by Nina Siegal order for
Anatomy Lesson
by Nina Siegal
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

First of all, readers, please know that a copy of the painting constantly being referred to in this novel can be found at the end of the story, before the Acknowledgments. It took me forever to figure this out, and it's really important to know because you will want to see what the artist and others are talking about. The painting, entitled Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, is one by Rembrandt and is said to be the 'first major work that made his name.'

Using this painting as source material, author Siegal sets herself a very difficult task: to tell the story behind the painting from several points of view. We have Doctor Tulp, Rembrandt, René Descartes, the cadaver when he was alive, the woman he loves and a curio dealer, all revealing what they know. In addition there are some conservator's notes, written in modern times.

The story that unfolds is very beautiful in that besides describing the cadaver's life, it also gives a very interesting picture of that particular time in Holland. There was definitely a yen for scientific inquiry, and Siegal gets that across so well. From another vantage point, Rembrandt's musings are about art and how it should reflect life: 'It is art that can restore a broken body, return a dead man to life ... My job is to serve the art.' By restoring a common thief 'with beauty and love and light, then we could all be reprieved.' Then the work 'was not just painting, it was making art.'

My only quibble is with the voices. All of the characters, though they tell distinct stories, speak with a rather literary voice. Some attempt is made to give Flora's language a more vernacular expression, especially at the beginning of her segments, but that soon goes away. Nonetheless, this novel, intricate and richly imagined, gives much satisfaction and lots to think about.

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