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The Last Masterpiece    by Laura Morelli order for
Last Masterpiece
by Laura Morelli
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2023 (2023)
Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Art historian Laura Morelli's The Last Masterpiece is a historical novel based on the true story of the Monuments Men and Women, tasked with preserving western art from Nazi destruction and theft during World War II. The story follows German photographer Eva Brunner and WAC stenographer Josephine Evans as they hunt for looted masterpieces across Nazi-occupied Italy.

The story alternates between their points of view, starting with Eva emerging from an Austrian salt mine, where she takes photos of Nazi-looted art. Helping her sensitive sixteen-year-old brother Gerhard to avoid conscription, Eva volunteers to photograph art at the German Art History Institute in Florence. Josie's single mother has spent her days scrubbing toilets in New Haven, Connecticut. Josie works as a typist at the university art gallery. When her wealthy friend (from elementary school) Dot urges her to enlist in the Women's Army Corps with her, Josie signs up.

Readers follow Eva's and Josie's adventures, the treasures they view, and their horror over masterpieces - and people - destroyed. Eva arrives in Florence just as Italy (rich in artistic heritage) surrenders to the Anglo-Americans. Though initially, the team she works with tries to preserve art, their orders change over time. Josie, soon seen as 'the U.S. army's best stenographer', works with Captain Foster documenting artworks (and learning about art history on the job). Eve's and Josie's paths cross in Florence.

They eventually meet and both change through these experiences. They rebuild their lives after it all ends. Eve lets go of the weight of her country's guilt and returns home to Austria, while Josie learns that 'there is wonder and power in small things' and stays in Italy. The Last Masterpiece is a fascinating read.

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