Tuesday, November 1, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal

The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal is an engrossing historical novel that explores, from multiple angles, Rembrandt’s first major masterpiece, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.

Set in Amsterdam in the mid-seventeenth century, the story is told from multiple viewpoints. Dr. Tulp is the ambitious surgeon who hopes the lecture he will give while dissecting a corpse at the annual guild meeting will catapult him to high political office. René Descartes, the French philosopher/mathematician, is attending the public dissection hoping it will help him in his search for the seat of the soul. Jan Fetchet is a merchant trading in curios – and in human corpses. Rembrandt is, of course, the young painter, who has been commissioned to paint the members of the surgeon’s guild. He will decide to incorporate the corpse into his painting. And then, there is Aris the Kid, a young thief sentenced to be hanged, who claims to welcome death because his life has been one long misery. The only bright spot in his life is Flora, a friend from youth who briefly became his lover. She is carrying his child and comes to Amsterdam to try to save him. But she is always one step too late. Aris’ corpse will be the dissection specimen.

The story is imaginative and yet feels wholly credible as the author dives into the stories of each of these people and weaves them into a history of the painting. This novel should appeal to art lovers and historical fiction fans.

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