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The Anatomy Lesson
288 pages; Nan A. Talese
In this intricate work of historical fiction, Nina Siegal transports us to the Golden Age of 1632 Amsterdam, reimagining the story behind one of Rembrandt's famous paintings, "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp." Over the course of one day—the day that the thief Aris the Kid is to be executed—lives weave together as a wide cast of characters fight over Aris' body. There are those who want it only for science, such as Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, who's conducting an autopsy lecture at the end of the night and René Descartes, who's in search of proof of the soul inside the body. There are those who want it for art, such as 26-year-old Rembrandt, commissioned to paint a portrait of Tulp's lecture. And lastly, there is Aris the Kid's pregnant lover, Flora, who wants to give him a "Christian burial" for no motivation other than love. Siegal alternates between the perspectives of her characters to create a literary page-turner that captures a story behind a masterpiece, but her talent is in exploring the wrenching emotion of loss and the price that's paid for trying to understand human life. "All of us sought his flesh," Rembrandt says about Aris. "But he did not belong to any of us."
— Pamela Masin