Cover Image: Künstlers in Paradise

Künstlers in Paradise

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I enjoyed this generational novel where an old lady told a young man about her life. Refreshing! Both characters were cute.

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From the Holocaust to the COVID pandemic in Venice, California, this book covered a lot and offers an interesting historical perspective through the eyes of Mami Künstler and her family.

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Kunstlers in Paradise is a pandemic novel set up against the historical background of the exile of a twelve, almost thirteen year old girl, who escaped Vienna with her family in 1939 and landed in Venice, California. Mamie, the teenager, is now a ninety-three year-old woman sheltered due to the pandemic lock down with her adult grandson, Julian, who is visiting from New York City, and trying to establish his career as a writer. What follows is Mamie's stories of meeting Greta Garbo at the beach and the many other well-know composers and writers she met through her family's associations in Hollywood during the 1940s. Readers will enjoy Mamie who is a charming, smart woman--who has a keen eye on life.

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Really enjoyed this story by Cathleen Schine. We are starting to see many books know that acknowledge the pandemic and it is interesting to see how different authors use the lockdown time in their story lines. I thought Schine used it very well. I think the storytelling to a grandchild is often easier than telling one's children and she did it well. Also nice to see a relationship established and understanding between generations.

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Cathleen Schine takes the Covid pandemic head on in her new book, Kunstlers in Paradise.
A trip down memory lane for many of us who during the early days of the Covid pandemic either spent time with family we don’t usually get to live with or possibly ended up spending time somewhere we had not expected to be for longer than was the original plan.

That is how Julian Kunstler, the twenty something grandson ends up living with his grandmother Salomea Kunstler known to family as Mamie. Julian has suffered a servere blow when his girlfriend breaks up with him, his best friend and roommate decides to go to law school and leaves their shared apartment and the bookstore he has been working in closes its doors.
He is lost. His parents do not want him moving back in with them. He has no career ambition or direction.

When his grandmother Mamie breaks her wrist and needs a little assistance, Julian travels from New York City to Los Angeles to help out. He moves into Mamie’s guest house at her Venice beach bungalow. Thinking this is a stop over while he tries to find himself, Covid changes everything. Now he is stuck living with his 93 year old grandmother and Agatha her live-in assistant. Though it is a wonderful way to be isolated during the pandemic, Julian feels guilty that he is not suffering as much as his parents and friends in New York.

To pass the time Mamie starts to share stories of her life. She reminisces about leaving what the Kunstler family will remember as paradise, their home in Vienna, until 1939, Hitler marched into the city. The family came to America and settled in Los Angeles. Mamie was a youngster and traveled with her mother, father and grandfather.

The book tries to compare the horrific trauma of Mamie and her family leaving Europe and settling in America, being exiled to being unmoored during Covid. Leaving your home and not being able to return. Feeling guilty when you survive and others do not. Mamie quotes Christopher Isherwood: “I am bitterly ashamed that I am here in safety.”

Later Julian will also quote Isherwood when he meets Sophie, a fellow dog walker who lives across the street, as he walks his grandmother’s dog. They meet daily to walk the dogs on opposite sides of the street shouting to each other to converse. As they become friendlier, they meet on Sophie’s lawn with masks and Julian shares the stories his grandmother is telling him.

As the story develops we hear how Mamie and her family escaped Vienna and came to Venice CA. How her mother found work in Hollywood, her father a composer was not as successful and found this new country difficult to navigate. Her grandfather was her closest friend when Mamie was a child, they strolled the beach together and talked to people they met. She talks about the movie stars they knew. Julian writes it all down and thinks he may write a play based on Mamie’s story. He starts to enjoy hearing her remembrances about famous people like Greta Garbo and famous composer, Arnold Schoenberg. Mamie goes onto to become a violinist.

In this crazy tapestry of family life, we see how a family left a life they thought was paradise until it was no longer a place of beauty, to a place that tries hard to be paradise. We see how people can make a place a paradise when they need to find happiness during a difficult time fInding themselves and creating a happy life during hardship.

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I did not finish this book. I am grateful to NetGalley for providing me the opportunity to read Kunstlers in Paradise before its publication.

I read 30% of Kunstlers in Paradise and could not push through. It seemed like the storyline was about to pick up, but I couldn't make it. In the 30% I did read, I kept drawing connections to the book Pachinko. The multi generational story with younger generations reflecting on the experiences of their grandparents and seeing the impact and result in themselves. I wished the story moved quicker in the beginning or the characters were interesting enough for me to keep reading. I found Julian quite irritating with his complaining about his privilege life.

As a librarian, I know a portion of my community that will love this novel. I recommend this book as a slightly more serious beach read and for those who enjoy WWII period fiction but are bored with the same old plot.

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A touching story that spans five generations from 1939 to the 2020s of Covid. Mamie and her parents and her beloved grandfather in 1939 are able to escape Vienna thanks to a group of Jewish musicians and writers and relocate to Venice, California. Mamie was 11 at the time and now is 93. Her grandson, Julian, is interested in pursuing a writing career in Hollywood. Alas, Covid and the pandemic strikes and suddenly the two along with the housekeeper are housebound. Mamie forces Julian to listen to her life stories which completely changes the Kunstlers. Far from being a sad tale about the trying times of Covid, it was an eye-opening insight into the plights of family and how one’s attitude shapes your view of life. Mamie is a person who has faced the good and the evil of life and remains solid in her view that it’s a wonderful life. Her housekeeper is so loyal and not afraid to state her opinion. Julian who was struggling to find his purpose has no choice but to listen to Mamie and her stories and the result is definitely worth a read. It’s a great commentary on family and outside influences. Thanks to NetGalley and Henry Holt & Company for this advance review copy; the review is my honest opinion.

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The story revolves around three main characters. Julian, a 20 something lost soul comes to visit his grandmother in California from New York City just prior to the pandemic Mamie, he’s 93-year-old grandmother, who escaped Vienna. during the holocaust. Mamie’s caretaker Agatha floats around in the background of the story. This book started out as a very interesting, somewhat historical novel. The beginning had great character portrayal, and you really felt like this book was going to go somewhere. It seemed to stop dead once they got to California, and Julian arrived. it This is a pandemic novel. Hence, there is way too much conversation and not a lot of. It is interesting. Too wordy. That being said, I consider this author, a successful ,proven author, and I will continue to follow her.

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Enjoyed this very much. I loved the narrative voice and the slices of Hollywood "back in the day." Entertaining and engaging historical fiction. I'd love to see it on film!

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I am not quite sure how to describe Cathleen Schine's new novel, Künstlers in Paradise. There is a loosely described plot about what happens to refugees who fled Vienna after the Nazi's reclaimed Austria. And yet, there is no real plot. Instead there are memories to be shared, an intellectual inheritance to be explored, a coming-of-age storyline, and real Hollywood celebrities who populate these stories, mostly as throw away names.

In Künstlers in Paradise, Mamie welcomes her grandson Julian into her home in the midst of Covid. How does a 93 year-old Covid prisoner pass her time? By telling the story of her life to her grandson, who carefully writes down every tale, and then repeats the stories to a young woman he has met, while walking Mamie's dog. Each character in Künstlers in Paradise is carefully explored and described, including the people who populate Mamie's stories, only two of whom are actually important. Arnold Schoenberg, the Austrian composer, who is also a refugee, helps Mamie discover an affinity for the violin and teaches her to play tennis. The second character is Greta Garbo, whose role is both friend and teacher. Both Schoenberg and Garbo are central to Mamie's stories. Admittedly it is strange to see two real life personas take such a central role in a fictional novel, but Schine makes it work.

Mamie is a storyteller, and she has stories to tell. Schine explores aging with a depth not often seen in novels. Mamie knows she will soon die and that her memory sometimes fades, but she wants to pass on a legacy of experiences to Julian. Mamie wants her life to have meant something beyond her experience as an 11-year-old Jewish Refugee. She knows she was lucky to survive the Holocaust, and thus, her life must not have been wasted.

Künstlers in Paradise is a memoir, filled with vignettes of a life well lived. Readers should anticipate humor and sorrow and a so many other emotions they are difficult to list. I want to thank the author and publisher, Henry Holt, for providing this ARC for me to review. And a thank you to NetGalley for introducing me to such an interesting author.

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Meet the Kunstler family: it’s 1939, and the Austrian family is relieved to flee Vienna amid Nazi reforms that are increasingly encroaching on their freedoms there. After a year of remaining in their home to avoid persecution for being Jewish, eleven-year-old Mamie, her grandfather, and her parents are ready to leave everything behind. Fortunately, the European Film Fund secures visas for them to come to Los Angeles and jobs in the film industry. Mamie, best English speaker in the family, helps the adults as they adjust to life in Hollywood. Fast forward eight decades, and (told in alternating chapters) Mamie is now 93 and a retired violinist still living in California. Her grandson Julian is 23 and is about to be homeless after his roommate moves out, his girlfriend breaks up with him, and his parents decline to keep funding his life. Mamie offers to take him in for a few weeks, but when the pandemic strikes, his short visit becomes a months’ long stay. As they get better acquainted, Mamie shares captivating stories of her life growing up and meeting Hollywood icons, most notably Greta Garbo. Beautifully written with wonderful characters.

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First off, the cover of this book is gorgeous. I was drawn in by this family, the Kunstlers, who have to leave Europe as Jews become persecuted and the beginnings of the Holocaust are coming. They come to Los Angeles, and each person views it a bit differently. I love reading about Venice Beach when it was clean, new and unique. The main characters are the woman who came with her family as a teen and is now a grandmother, and her grandson who can't quite get his life together. He comes to visit and ends up being there for a longer period as the Covid quarantines begin. The characters were well done, and I enjoyed this book.
Thank you to Henry Holt and Company and NetGalley for an e-ARC of this title in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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Künstlers in Paradise by Cathleen
I loved this book so much that I’m sad it’s over. It's a bit odd since this story is partly about Covid and partly about Hitler’s takeover in Germany and those who escaped and those who didn’t but it’s actually very funny. I laughed out loud many times. I teared up a few times too but it was hopeful and even though the characters sometimes drove each other crazy, they were a loving family. I envy anyone who has the opportunity to read or listen to it for the first time.
I have to say that I also got the audiobook and the narrator, Jesse Vilinsky, is excellent and this is a case when I would really advise to listen to rather than read this book.
I may be gushing but I can’t help it.
Thanks to NetGalley

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Thank you to NetGalley for this advanced reader e-copy of Kunstlers innParadise by Cathleen Schine in exchange for a honest review.This is a very well written book about Mamie Kunstler a 93 year old woman and her grandson Julian , a college student, told in 2 time periods - in the 1930s when Mamie and her family were forced to leave Vienna because of their Jewish heritage and move to Los Angeles and in the 2020s when Julian has come to live with his grandmother right before the pandemic’s start.Mamie has many stories to tell her grandson Julian about her life and Julian stuck inside during the pandemic has nothing better to do than listenThrough the story you see the transformation of Julian from a boy to a man.He has finally found his purpose in life- he wants to be a writer/ actor, he comes to care greatly for his grandmother and finds love.A heartwarming family story.

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I really liked this book, recap of these troubled times, analogy with WWII horrors, but included very warm human relationships and connections. Felt character development was very good and the plot was consistent.

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Really a 3.5, rounded up for the power of story. With the first half of the book, I was pulled into the Mamie stories, resentful of the Covid-present interfering. But I relaxed when Mamie made the link. "Until it happens to you," she said, "you cannot know what it is to be an exile, a perpetual stranger." Grandson Julian was a contemporary exile due to the pandemic.

Mamie helps Julian gain perspective that older adults can offer. I particularly loved her argument against the ever-in-vogue dismissal of history and the easy tendency to apply a contemporary lens to historical events: "How can you know things have changed, Julian, if you don't know how things were?"

Despite the stories and slices of wisdom, the book's energy deflated in Parts 3 and 4 with their focus on tennis and music. You can decide if you would be more engaged on those topics that I was. And rather than charmed, in these parts, I found the intersection between fictional and factual characters deadening.

Fortunately, the ending provided a simple, yet satisfying conclusion.

Final note for editors: early in the book, the text has Grandfather saying, "New?" when clearly the Yiddish "Nu?" was intended. This may have been an error in my version, but it was terribly off-putting so early on.

Thank you to NetGalley and Henry Holt and Co. for the Advanced Reader Copy.

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Four and 1/2 🌟s. Unusual narrative blending the memories from an Austrian emigre’s life, mostly post-escape, in California in the years after WWII and the current arrival of her somewhat lost grandson at the beginning of the pandemic. Julian arrives to help out his 93-year-old grandmother after she hurts her wrist and he is forced to stay due to the pandemic shutdown. Mamie enlivens the days with funny, terrible, and lovely memories and the expected profundities. Lots of namedropping of the 1940s emigre population and Hollywood. Great read!

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I think trying to find and write parallels between Jews fleeing Europe and the 2020 pandemic is impertinent, if not borderline offensive. I wanted to give this story a chance but I found Julian a whiny little jerk and I’m not overly fond of Grandma Mamie either. I made it to 35% and I’m calling it a DNF. Others might find the tale resonant in some way but it was not for me.

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I thought the life of the eleven year old young girl who fled Vienna for California to escape Nazism with her family would be much more interesting. But there were several musical and literary references that I just did not get. Too witty and sly for me to understand with characters that I didn't really know.

Copy provided by the publisher and NetGalley

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First off, I am DOWN for a pandemic book. I know that is not everyone's thing, but to me, there is something so cathartic about seeing someone else bear witness to what happened. Have you noticed how many current books take place in 2019? I mean, I get it, I do, but things HAPPENED after 2019, you know?

KÜNSTLERS IN PARADISE is a pandemic book and more specifically, a lockdown book. 20-something Julian was supposed to temporarily live with his grandmother, Mamie, as he got on his feet in LA, but then the pandemic hit. Julian bunks through lockdown with his 90-something grandmother and her caretaker, Agatha. As they spend their days in confusion and boredom, Mamie begins telling Julian stories of her childhood in Venice, CA after her family escaped Hitler's Austria in the 1930s.

Mamie is funny and stubborn and spins a great story. As they're stuck in the upheaval of lockdown, she can't help but return in her mind to the upheaval of her family's escape from Austria and their first years in their new home in California. She shares her stories with Julian and he is captivated by his family's history which he didn't know much about.

I found the book to be a little uneven. Sometimes I was bored, wondering what was actually happening here (kinda like lockdown, huh?) and other times I was taken by a beautiful passage or charmed by the humor. There's also a lot of story-within-a-story happening which was occasionally disorienting and sometimes felt meandering.

KÜNSTLERS IN PARADISE is the right book when you're in the mood for a quiet, character-driven story with a measure of quirk and some old Hollywood fun.

Thank you to NetGalley and Henry Holt and Co. for a free review copy of this book.

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