Friday, February 9, 2018

Vincent and Theo - Deborah Heiligman

Summary: The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers' lives. Confidant, champion, sympathizer, friend, Theo supported Vincent as he struggled to find his path in life. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime, Deborah Heiligman weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the love of the Van Gogh brothers. (Summary and picture from

My Review: Everyone knows who Vincent Van Gogh is, but I'll admit my interest in the man was piqued several years ago by the episode of Doctor Who where he featured as a main character.  It was a touching episode that let you into the life of this troubled man and how he saw the world, the art all around.

I'm not one to voluntarily pick up a non-fiction or biography book, I'll normally shy away from them unless they have lots of pictures or are in comic form.  However, I heard about this book at a conference I attend every year where they spotlight new books for young readers that have come out, picking the best to share with us, so I put it on my Goodreads to try out later.  

Recently, I saw a trailer for a hand painted, animated film called 'Loving Vincent,' and my interest in the man was sparked yet again, and I remembered this book.

First off, I found this book reads like a painting.  That may sound strange, but the way the author crafts her words and scenes feels like you've stepped into one of Vincent's pieces.  It's vibrant and loose and real.  The author has broken the book into different galleries, so that it's almost as if you're walking through an art gallery of the Van Gogh brothers' lives.  It also read so well.  Even though it clocks in at over 400 pages, it didn't feel long.

It was so fascinating to deeply learn about Vincent, and even more so, learn about his beloved brother, Theo.  I never knew he had a brother before I heard about this book, and as you read it, you start to realize that without Theo, there really would have been no Vincent Van Gogh as we know him today.  Most people know the basics about Vincent, that he cut his ear, that he painted pictures, that he killed himself.  What I love is how in depth this story goes, how much research the author did, and from primary resources too, the letters Theo and Vincent wrote to each other over the years, letting us see into their very souls and what beautiful, troubled souls they were.

The author doesn't shy away from the pain and heartaches, the struggles and the triumphs.  It really makes you feel for both Vincent and Theo, and in Vincent's case (and even Theo's to an extent), it's interesting to see how mental illness was viewed in that time period.  Scholars suspect now that Vincent suffered from many illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, manic depression, anxiety, and even seizures.  But in this time, nobody knew what was wrong or how to help or treat it, so most people were simply committed to mental asylums.  Some of Vincent's last words were "The sadness will last forever."  It's interesting to read Vincent's words to his brother, to see into his troubled mind and how he eventually uses art to try and survive his pain.

It really also gives you a lot of sympathy for Theo, for how much he supported his brother, not only financially, but emotionally too.  I like how the author kept referring to a promise the brothers made at a windmill one day, to always be there for each other, that their bond was stronger above all else.  Even though they went through their dark times where they didn't communicate and were severely frustrated, they always returned to each other, more than brothers, souls tied together in their heartache and love.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: As a book for young readers, it manages to discuss delicate situations well, but it doesn't shy away from the time period and the bohemian lifestyle. The brothers often visit brothels and prostitutes, and contract diseases spread there.  There is also some very minor swearing.

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