The Mar­riage Artist

Andrew Win­er
  • Review
By – September 26, 2011
Research­ing the descen­dents of genius pre- World War II Vien­na ketubah (mar­riage con­tract) illus­tra­tor Josef Pick, con­tem­po­rary art crit­ic Daniel Licht­mann dis­cov­ers his own past. Daniel becomes inter­meshed into the fam­i­ly as a result of his inves­ti­ga­tions into the prob­a­ble sui­cide of his wife Alek­san­dra, and her lover, sculp­tor Ben­jamin Wind. The prog­e­ny of a Jew­ish moth­er and a father born of an inter­mar­ried cou­ple, ten-year-old Josef begins paint­ing ketubot due to prompt­ing from his grand­fa­ther. Josef becomes famous through­out Vien­na for mas­ter­ful depic­tions of the love shared with­in cou­ples com­mis­sion­ing his work. He cre­ates these sym­bols along­side the tra­di­tion­al Ara­ma­ic text. (The author either erro­neous­ly or pur­pose­ful­ly calls it Hebrew.) Yet, Josef has dif­fi­cul­ty pro­duc­ing a ketubah for his wife, Han­nah. Han­nah and Josef are even­tu­al­ly interned at sep­a­rate con­cen­tra­tion camps. The sto­ry of how Josef’s line sur­vived the Holo­caust gains more impor­tance for read­ers than solv­ing the mys­tery behind the deaths of Alek­san­dra and Ben­jamin. In par­al­lel episodes, read­ers learn of Daniel’s mar­riages, which failed pre­sum­ably because of infer­til­i­ty. Daniel and the mem­o­ry of Josef inter­sect on a trip to Vien­na, where Daniel also finds a grave­stone engraved with the name Licht­mann. This nov­el depicts the course of mod­ern Jew­ish his­to­ry from assim­i­la­tion to renew­al. The ques­tion of the mar­riage artist’s iden­ti­ty per­sists through­out the book. Is it Josef, his father, Pom­mer­anz, Daniel or per­haps Jew­ish cul­ture?

Twit­ter Book Club

Read a tran­script for the Twit­ter Book Club for The Mar­riage Artist.

Nicole Levy has com­plet­ed grad­u­ate work in Juda­ic stud­ies. She writes about Jew­ish art, cul­ture, his­to­ry and lit­er­a­ture from her home in Swamp­scott, Mass­a­chu­setts and is a cor­re­spon­dent for The Jew­ish Advo­cate in Boston.

Discussion Questions