Friday, January 11, 2008

Finding Something Lost: The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E. L. Konigsburg

Amadeo Kaplan knew that he had found the something he had always wanted, "something that had been lost, something that people didn't even know was lost until it was found, by him. " As Deo discovers the simply framed crayon sketch of a woman, concealed behind shelved books, and reads the signature "Modigliani" scrawled across the upper corner, he feels that this is it--not just a rare and valuable piece of art, but something more, a story that begins with him but reaches far beyond, back more than a half century, and reaches forward to the people now with him in this dusty, hot room in an old Florida mansion.

Sixth-grader Amadeo is drawn to Mrs. Zender's old house by his desire to uncover lost things and his need to find a friend in his new middle school. When he meets and follows self-contained William Wilcox into the shabby old Italianate mansion being prepared for a liquidation sale, he gets to know the owner, former diva and genuine personage Aida Lily Tull Zender, and senses that here he will uncover his mystery. As he helps William and his mother, liquidator Dora Wilcox, sort through the contents of the estate for sale, Amadeo begin to unravel a thread which leads him back to the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and the confiscation of fine art from its former Jewish owners.

Each person caught up in that thread--his godfather Peter Vanderwaal, Peter's mother, father, his Uncle Pieter, who died in a concentration camp, and Mrs. Zender herself--has a part in the theft, blackmail, and deceit which comes to rest in a simple sketch given her by Mrs. Zender's husband. The history of how the Modigliani drawing, labeled "degenerate art by the Nazis, passed from Pieter Van der Waal's Amsterdam shop to German officers, through an Austrian social pretender and into the hands of Mrs. Zender as a wedding gift becomes Deo's "lost thing" more so than the work of art itself.

In The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World two-time Newbery author E. L. Konigsburg picks up characters from her earlier books The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place and Silent to the Bone in a novel which develops like an archaeological dig, exposing layer after layer of personal history without ever revealing the whole truth of the site. A book for older readers than her Newbery classic From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, it shares the theme of a mysterious work of art, an eccentric but enabling older woman, and two young people who uncover much about human nature as they excavate the long buried provenance behind the work of art itself. More than usual, Konigsburg's writing here is sometimes dense and sometimes enigmatic, as her character Mrs. Zenger says of life itself, "ninety percent unknown." As always, though, her characters and settings are brilliantly drawn, fascinating in detail, and her descriptive writing is sometimes achingly beautiful. This is a book which asks much of the reader but offers a great deal in return.

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  • Hello,
    I am a high school teacher librarian in Saskatchewan, Canada and love your blog. I have read the Konisburg book and was fascinated with the story in part because I am a weekend artist and love art. Keep up the amazing book responses.
    Can you recommend books that include minor or major characters with a variety of disabilities including intellectually challenged persons.
    You are such a good writer, have you thought of writing fiction for young people?

    By Anonymous lucia, at 11:03 AM  

  • Dear Lucia,
    Take a look at MY LOUISIANA SKY by Kimberly Holt and SO B. IT by Sarah Weeks for mentally handicapped characters. You didn't specify the age range. These are considered YA, although the Holt book is approximately Grade 5-10. The book by Weeks is for older readers.

    Thank you for your kind words and interest. Please keep reading and giving me your feedback.

    By Blogger GTC, at 7:49 PM  

  • Dear Lucia,
    Also look at books by M. E. Kerr, most of which are in your age group. I'm thinking particularly of LITTLE, LITTLE, but there are others by Kerr that would fit your request.
    Best wishes.

    By Blogger GTC, at 7:58 PM  

  • I just finished reading this one and (as always with Konigsburg) truly enjoyed it. It is fun to read a writer that I read as a child who is still writing books for kids! (There aren't too many of them left from my childhood at this point). I enjoyed your review.

    By Blogger Darla D, at 9:02 AM  

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