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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
Vincent's Women: The Untold Story of the Loves of Vincent van Gogh by Donna Russo is a historical fiction novel narrated by Johanna Bonger van Gogh, sister-in-law of Vincent van Gogh, to her son, Willem. Johanna describes London from 1873 to 1874, when Vincent admired housemate Eugenie Loyer, sparking his passion for art. Johanna reflects on Vincent's life, his unrequited love, different professions, and inner struggles. In various episodes, Johanna describes Vincent's relationships with Kee Stricker Vos, Sien, and Margot Begemann as emotional drivers on his artistic journey. She explores his time in Paris, his partnership with Gauguin, and the pivotal ear-severing incident. Sister Epiphany at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum is a crucial support, after which his connection with Marguerite Gachet in Auvers-sur-Oise provides respite from his mental anguish until his tragic suicide.
Living in Europe, I have seen plenty of Vincent van Gogh's work, although I admit that aside from the ear severing and suicide, there was nothing more I knew of his actual life. As a feminist, I love books that dig deeper into eras when men wrote their own history and largely left women out of it. Donna Russo does an exceptional job in sussing out the women who had a significant impact on the artist's famous work in Vincent's Women. I think it is important to clarify that love is not just romantic, and romantic love is not always the most transformative. In this regard, the woman who stood out to me in Russo's exhaustively researched and wonderfully written book is Sister Epiphany. If I had to pick one woman from the line-up to spend time with, she would be the one. It's hard not to feel sorry for the women Vincent, for lack of a better term, abandoned. That said, Russo breathes life back into their roles in van Gogh's evolution. The writing and dialogue are all so well done, and the use of a fictional narrative makes it all feel authentic. Very highly recommended.