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The Crimson Portrait    by Jody Shields order for
Crimson Portrait
by Jody Shields
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

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* *   Reviewed by Kerrily Sapet

Jody Shields' The Crimson Portrait opens in the spring of 1915 on a country estate outside of London. A young woman, recently widowed, mourns her husband and steels herself for her home to become a military hospital. Her estate will house men who have severe facial injuries. Interwoven with her story is those of one of the patients, two doctors making groundbreaking advances in the treatments of facial wounds, and an American woman artist serving at the hospital. An affair between the widow and the patient takes an unexpected turn when she has the opportunity to remake his image into that of her lost husband's.

Inspired by little-known collaboration between artists and surgeons during World War I, The Crimson Portrait offers a gut-wrenching emotional and psychological look at the treatment of these men. From the townspeople viewing them as monsters, to the doctors hoping to slowly mend the horrific ravages of war, to the plain fact that many men with facial injuries faced living behind a mask for the rest of their lives. Embedded within Shield's tale is that of three love affairs: the widow with her husband and the patient, an elderly doctor with an opera singer from years earlier, and the American artist with a surgeon.

The characters are painfully human - both falling hard, but also rising up to meet seemingly insurmountable challenges. The Crimson Portrait is a tragic love story in some ways, but a deeply and beautifully crafted one. Shields shows that there are chances to renew and live life again. Shields, author of the compelling novel The Fig Eater, offers up another entrancing and haunting story.

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