Member Reviews

4.5 stars, rounded upward. My thanks go to Net Galley, Henry Holt Publishers, and Macmillan Audio for the review copies. This magnificently quirky novel is for sale now.

Julian Kunstler is kind of a mess. He’s a twenty-something New Yorker whose girlfriend has just dumped him. He has no job, and he doesn’t want one; at least, not the low-paying, entry-level variety of jobs for which he is qualified. He takes himself home to his parents who have been paying his way, confident that they will understand his plight and increase his allowance. Instead, he hits a wall. What are your plans for the future, Julian? (None.) What do you plan to do for money? (Get it from you.) Just as a dramatic situation has begun to unfold, they hear from his 93 year old grandmother, Mamie, who lives in Los Angeles. She wants him to come to stay with her awhile; she needs assistance. He’s not so sure that he wants to go, but when his parents insist, he gets on that plane. Once there, the pandemic strikes, and he is trapped in lockdown with his grandmother and her elderly companion, Agatha.

Mamie has always been fond of Julian, and although she does need a driver for doctor appointments and the like, what she wants, more than anything, is to tell her life story. Most of it, anyway. It begins in Austria, as Jewish artists like her father, a successful composer, are being pushed out of public life by the Nazis. (Here, I emit a small moan; I am heartily sick of Holocaust stories. Happily, we don’t stay there long, and this story is worth it.) She goes on to describe the shock she experiences in suddenly being transplanted into a completely different climate, language, and culture, and much of Mamie’s story is droll. And Julian, who never would have sat still for these tales had they come from his parents, listens. At first, he listens impatiently, assisted by Mamie’s generous liquor collection. As time goes on, he begins to listen with greater patience and understanding. And by the end of a year’s time, he listens with genuine interest. His own exile from New York is pale, after all, in comparison to the exile his predecessors endured.

The most dynamic character is, of course, Julian, but through Mamie’s stories, we see how life has already changed her. Agatha is enigmatic until the book is nearly over, and I love what Cline does with her, too.

If I were to change one thing, I would edit down the material about the genius composer friend that emigrates from Austria and is close to the family. This reviewer was a music major once upon a time, and if this part of the narrative is a bit much for me, then probably many others will feel the same. Of course, if the reader comes to the book with a deep interest in Schoenberg, then it may prove quite satisfying.

I am fortunate to have access to both the digital print galley and the audio version, and reader Jesse Vilinsky is hands down the funniest, most skillful voice actor I have ever had the pleasure to hear. Cline’s book is very good, but in the hands of Vilinsky, it is infinitely better. Her interpretations of Mamie and Julian are spot on, hilarious at times, moving at others. The way she voices Agatha is absolute comic genius!

For those that love quirky humor and historical fiction, this book is highly recommended.

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Funny and touching family drama that uses the Covid pandemic as a plot device to get two characters together instead of focusing on the ravages of the virus. We are regaled with stories of glamorous Hollywood in the 1940's with minor interruptions from the present day. Lovely escapist read that combines family and historical fiction. Schine presents the older characters with vivaciousness, wit, and vitality. A joy to read. For fans of Jennifer Weiner and Mark Kay Andrews, and the like.

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I love this cover more than I loved the book. The premise was good -- comparing escaping from Austria during World War 2 with COVIC lockdown but I found this so droll. It was definitely a slog and I often thought, what is the point? I don't think the book was helped when it described the year 2020 because Julian was insufferable as a character. Hope you have better luck!

Künstlers in Paradise comes out next week on March 14, 2023 and you can purchase HERE.

Silly Americans, she'd thought; if only I could be like them, she'd thought. The story of the immigrant, she thought now.

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Künstlers in Paradise by Cathleen Schine is a spectacular novel. It’s a charming and important recollection of 1940s Southern California and the lives of the Jewish families who moved there to escape Germany and Austria before World War II coupled with a compelling, poignant, and droll tale of life in quarantine in the early days of Covid in Los Angeles. Julian Künstler, a 23-year-old aspiring writer and sporadic student of varying subjects, loses his part-time job, his girlfriend, and his roommate in early 2020. His parents won’t give him money to keep his NYC apartment so when Mamie, his 93-year-old grandmother, breaks her wrist, his parents think: “removing their son from the disarray of his life and depositing him into Mamie’s disarray—the perfect solution. He heads to Venice, California where Mamie lives in a 1920s bungalow with Agatha, her cook and companion, a woman she refers to as her “dogsbody.”
While Julian settles in, Mamie begins to share stories of her life beginning in 1939 in Vienna when she was eleven and her accomplished Jewish family including her screenwriter mother, her pianist father, and her grandfather fled the Nazis. Schine cleverly uses language that illuminates the Künstler family as Mamie describes her uncle to Julian: “Uncle Gustav was yelling . . . in Yiddish! The forbidden, vulgar language of the shtetl, of the Jewish slums.” . . . “We never spoke what we Viennese considered a mongrel language, the speech of the poor, of Eastern European Jews, unenlightened, practically medieval.”

“Künstler snobbery,” Julian said, nodding.

As Mamie continues weaving her tales, Covid arrives so the unlikely trio quarantines together and Julian’s presence becomes essential. As they share meals and cocktail hours in the garden, Julian’s parents remain in New York. Schine seamlessly explores the similarity between the Jewish exile in the paradise of 1940 Los Angeles and the lush garden paradise of California in 2020 when so many in New York City were dying of Covid. Mamie’s ruminations on her family’s arrival in Los Angeles before the war felt similar to the feelings of so many in 2020: “No one was happy here at first, Mamie thought. But neither were we dead.”

Mamie is a magnificent character described by Julian’s mother as “exotic and quixotic.” “Neurotic, his father would add.” She was an accomplished violinist who'd traveled the world performing. At 93, her hair was orange-red, Julian “thought it was because she had planted herself in her new world and was determined that people see her there. Her hair was celebratory: she had survived.” Her remembrances are as colorful as her hair especially as she tells of her close relationships with Greta Garbo and composer Arnold Schoenberg and of her family’s friendships with Aldous Huxley, Anita Loos, Christopher Isherwood and others. Julian asks, “You met Charlie Chaplain? Really?” “A nodding acquaintance,” states Mamie. Those encounters make the reader feel as if they were guests at he parties that only occurred in late afternoons because the German and Austria émigrés had to abide by a wartime curfew at 8 p.m.

Julian takes careful notes of Mamie’s memories to use in his screenplay, Exiles in Space, as his grandmother describes her past and he becomes closer to her and grows in empathy while beginning to feel that he has a purpose. As the novel begins, he isn't as exciting a character as his grandmother or as humorous a one as is the stalwart Agatha with her ever-present pocketbook and its can of Mace. Instead, the reader gets to watch his growth as he becomes more comfortable with himself.

Summing it Up: Read Künstlers in Paradise to experience five generations of a family from their roots in a fairy-tale life in early twentieth-century Vienna to survivor guilt in sunny California, followed by assimilation in 21st-century New York City. Sit in the lush garden listening as Mamie shares her memories with her grandson Julian. Experience the power of story to connect us and help us find ourselves as you revel in Mamie’s witty wordplay and wisdom as in these sentences: “I do not believe in life after death,” Mamie said. “I sometimes have trouble believing in life before death; it is all so improbable.” Buy this book and embed yourself in Maggie, Agatha, and Julian’s beautiful, improbable world.

A personal note: I wish my mother were alive to read this novel. She loved reading about the period before World War II and appreciated clever banter and exquisite sentences. In 1939 at age seventeen, she spent two months in England and France with her aunt and uncle. She told me stories about her trip and I have both the journal she kept and the passenger list from her return on the S. S. Normandie in June, 1939. Seeing names like Rosenfeld, Rosenberg, Schoeneman, Schulz, and Yaffe listed alongside American citizens including Avery Brundage and actor Ray Milland and European princes, princesses, barons, and baronesses make Shine’s story and research even more real for me. I particularly related to the stories about actors as Mom’s journal and subsequent conversations showed how enamored she was with seeing and talking with Ray Milland.

Rating: 5 Stars

Publication Date: February 14, 2023

Category: Dessert, Fiction, Five Stars, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Pigeon Pie (Historical Fiction), Super Nutrition, Book Club

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Publishers Weekly:

Dreamy, drifty, and droll, studded with lush botanical description and historical gems. Schine’s many fans will enjoy."
—Kirkus Reviews

"Reading like a cross between Leopoldstadt and Down and Out in Beverly Hills, this does the trick as an emotionally resonant meditation on family, memory, and the need for stories."
—Publishers Weekly

"Few authors could pull off what Cathleen Schine does in Künstlers in Paradise: creating a seamless, multilayered saga about family dynamics and relationships, immigration, the early days of Hollywood and the often disturbingly cyclical nature of history. . . . Künstlers in Paradise is truly a trove of unexpected rewards."
—BookPage, Starred Review

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I love Cathleen Schine novels and this one too was a good read.
It is the story of a grandmother and a grandson stuck together because of the COVID lockdown, Mamie sees it as an opportunity to tell her grandson her refugee story, and of her “personal paradise”
Thank you NetGalley and Henry Holt & Co for the ARC, I really enjoyed!

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In the 1930s, Mamie Künstler, her parents (a composer and a writer), and her grandfather find they are no longer safe in their home of Vienna. They are able to escape to the United States and find themselves in Los Angeles. In their new home, they are surrounded by many other Jewish musicians, artists, and writers who have also managed to escape Europe. Several decades later, in 2020, Mamie Künstler still lives in Los Angeles, in a small home with her housekeeper and her beloved dog. Then, her somewhat wayward grandson, Julian, arrives from New York for what is supposed to be a short visit, as he tries to get back on his feet. When the pandemic sweeps across the world, though, Mamie and Julian realize his stay will be extended for an unknown time. As the two adjust to living together during a lockdown, Mamie shares with Julian all the stories of her early years in Los Angeles -- and her early exposure to figures like Arnold Schoenberg, Christopher Isherwood, Thomas Mann, and, most intriguingly, Greta Garbo. Forced into close and extended proximity with each other, Mamie and Julian develop a relationship with each other that neither thought possible, as they shape each other's lives in a profound and unexpected way at a time of great uncertainty.

This book was terrific -- a creative, warm, and often surprising story of family and the lessons of the past.

Highly recommended!

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This novel is a historical fiction story from the perspective of Mamie, who during WWII fled Germany and moved with her family to sunny Los Angeles. It is present day, and she is telling stories of her past during Covid lockdown to her grandson. I loved the stories and the affection between these characters. A great historical fiction story that I enjoyed.

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I've been reading Cathleen Schine since Fin and Lady. She never disappoints and the stories keep getting better and better,
Here we have Mamie (Salome;) Kunstler, a 93 year-old matriarch, living in California. She emigrated with her family in 1939 from Austria and has been happily ensconced in Venice Beach ever since. Her hapless, grandson, Julian, is in need of a job, an apartment, basically, a life. New York is not working out. Mamie has him come to California, sets him up and then of course, the pandemic.
Trapped at home, Mamie starts telling Julian about her childhood and growing up. With her wisdom and insight, he starts to become something more than the foolish 20-something he seems to be. This book is darling and the comradery between Mamie and Julian is priceless.

*Special thanks to NetGalley and Henry Holt & Co. for this e-arc.*

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A witty and loving telling of one family’s remarkable history.

Julian Künstler is 23 years old, and is in a rut. Intelligent but unfocused, he has no real direction for his life. His world in New York is crumbling; his roommate Eli (who does have a direction to his life) is moving out, his girlfriend Juliet has announced that their relationship is over, and the children’s bookstore where he holds a part time job is closing. His parents, socially liberal and easy-going, have been worried about Julian for a long time, and they realize that Julian finally has to make his own way. His Grandma Mamie chooses that moment to call from her home in California. Due to a recent injury, she needs more help around the house than her companion Agatha can provide, and she offers to fly Julian out to stay with her for a few weeks until she is on the mend. It seems like the perfect temporary solution for Julian. But it is happening in early 2020, and the pandemic is about to descend upon the country, and what was supposed to be a few weeks by the ocean becomes an indefinite period of quarantine. Grandma Mamie has always been a bit larger than life, beautiful and witty. She arrived in the US in 1939 with her family when she was just 11; they were established artists from a good family in Austria, but they were Jewish and fled their homeland just ahead of the final crackdowns. Given their background they were given a home and a job, and joined a large group of Jewish émigrés near Hollywood. Mamie has never spoken of her life, and Julian realizes that he knows very little about his family’s history. The confinement of the pandemic reminds Mamie of life in Austria in the year leading up to her family’s flight, and she decides to share her stories with her grandson. And what stories she has to tell!
Compulsively readable, Künstlers in Paradise shares wonderfully drawn characters like Mamie (whom I couldn’t help but associate with another grande dame, Auntie Mame) within the context of Hollywood in the glamorous years of the 1940’s. People like Thomas Mann and Greta Garbo pop up, Saint Bernards are woven into the family lore, and parallels are drawn between a menacing dictator and a deadly virus, both disrupters of norms and killers of innocent people. The pain of a lost homeland, the guilt of surviving when others did not, and how these things impact future generations are but a few themes encountered by the reader. But the novel is full of (often sarcastic) humor and the joys that can be found in life as well. I have been a fan of Cathleen Schine since reading The Love Letter years ago, and her deft hand is again in evidence in this powerful, lovely novel. I wholeheartedly recommend this to lovers of well-crafted fiction. Fans of Patrick Dennis and Irène Némirovsky will likely enjoy this novel also. Many thanks to NetGalley and Henry Holt & Co for sharing an advanced reader’s copy of Künstlers in Paradise with me.

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29-year-old Julian is sent to California to help his 93-year-old grandmother with her broken wrist, covid lockdown hits and he ends up staying. the grandmother tells him the story of her life in the holocaust, very interesting read.

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4 enjoyable storied stars
“You told me some crazy stories when I was a kid.”

Twenty-something year old Julian’s life is falling apart – no roommate, no job, no real plans. Mom and dad say enough – go to California and help out your 93-year-old grandma, Mamie, after she broke her arm. After a while, Julian starts to fit in to this new life. Covid hits. To pass time Mamie starts telling stories - from escaping Viennna as a Jewish family to hanging with Hollywood celebrities. Julian becomes less selfish and more caring.

Mamie tells Julian she could not have handled the last year without him. “Exiled in paradise, you mean… But if this was not paradise, what was? A roof over your head, a chicken in the pot, a grandson to talk to, Agatha, her best friend, a dog, an orange tree outside.”

I enjoyed the subtle humor in this book. “He loved his wife and he loved his mother. It was true that he preferred to keep them separated, and he’d worried about this trip, but if dinner was any indication, all would be well.” The plot ambles along. Agatha, Mamie’s old friend/ housekeeper/ cook is both feisty and charming.

“What could you say in response to such a story?” Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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This novel is about Mamie Kunstler, who came to America from Vienna with her family as a young girl, escaping the Nazis, and her somewhat aimless 20 something grandson Julian, who comes to visit his 93 year old grandmother in 2020, then ends up stuck there when the pandemic begins, but grows close to his grandmother as she shared with him stories of her youth in Hollywood where she encountered various famous emigres.

Based on the description of this one, I thought it was going to be dual time period historical fiction, with chapters from Mamie’s perspective set in the past alternating with chapters from Julian’s perspective set in the present. Unfortunately, after the first chapter which was set in the past, the rest of the book was set in the present, with the stories Mamie tells him being presented generally as dialogue in quotes as she literally tells them to him. This was unfortunate as her stories were far more interesting than his, and I feel like the book could have been more successful if structured the other way.

I LOVED Cathleen Schine’s last book The Grammarians, a top ten book for me in 2019, so I’m sorry to say this one was just ok for me. There were some good moments, but overall I found it very slow and just never felt compelled to pick it up.

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Julian has been at loose ends but staying with his grandmother Mamie in Los Angeles changes his life. Lockdown might have been horrible given their differences- she's 93 for starters- but then she begins to tell him tales about her life in Vienna and in Los Angeles. Part of the group of emigres who fled Europe and the Nazis, she's learned a lot over the years and she's known fascinating people. Julian eats all of it up (as will the reader) and begins to take notes. He also meets Sophie, a neighbor. Lest you think this is all spun sugar, keep your eye on Agatha, Mamie's companion, who has an observant eye and a sharp tongue. In a sea of "grandmother/father tells stories of the past" tales, this one stands out for Schine's writing and her insight. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. It made me smile.

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Cathleen Schine is a masterful story teller and Kunstlers in Paradise does not disappoint. Julian Kunstler is a twenty three year old college graduate that is lacking direction. He grew up in NYC and lives in Brooklyn. He needs a new place to live so his parents send him to Los Angeles to stay with his grandmother Mamie at her home in Venice. Julian's parents hope that this visit will turn Julian's life around. Shockingly, COVID hits LA and Julian chooses to quarantine with Mamie and her caregiver. Mamie's stories of immigrating from Vienna to LA with her parents and her colorful childhood are the core of this novel. Julian adjusts to this new life, documents Mamie's stories and meets a girl. Schine's character's cleverly chart the stages of life but she always leaves room for surprise.

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Mamie Kunstler is eleven years old when she first sees Los Angeles in 1939. She has arrived with her parents and her grandfather. They are all stunned by what they see: the sunshine, the Pacific Ocean, the orange groves and palm trees. Everything is so different from the world they left behind in Austria.

Mamie and her family barely got out of Vienna in time. Nazi soldiers were already marching in the streets. They were lucky to be able to leave. So many of their friends and family were not lucky.

The Kunstler family’s flight to America was made possible by the European Film Fund, an organization founded by two established Jewish screenwriters. Hence their arrival in Los Angeles, where Mamie’s mother had been promised a writing job in Hollywood.

The family soon connected with the many other German-speaking immigrants who also lived in the area. There was a large group of writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals who socialized together. The Kunstlers met famous people, including Greta Garbo, through introductions by their new friends.

Mamie stayed in Los Angeles after she grew up. When she is ninety three her grandson, Julian, comes from New York City to visit. He is in his early twenties and is aimless, having recently lost his job, his apartment, and his girlfriend. Mamie is delighted to have the opportunity to spend some time with him.

Time they do spend, as the country goes into lockdown due to Covid. Forced to stay in LA and to stay at Mamie’s home, Julian falls into an easy routine with his grandmother. And Mamie begins telling him the story of her life. Julian is fascinated by the rich and adventurous life she has led. The lockdown turns into a blessing for these two, who learn so much about each other and who become very close.

Mamie is an amazing woman, independent, feisty and self assured. She and Julian are kindred souls who love and come to understand each other. And the stories Mamie tells! Happily the reader gets to enjoy these intriguing tales alongside Julian.

This is a lovely book that fans of historical fiction are sure to appreciate. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️, available March 14, 2023.

My thanks to the author, Cathleen Schine, to the publisher, Henry Holt and Co., and to NetGalley for providing me a copy of this book.

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Found this book to be severely unengaging. Had expectations that I'd really enjoy it given the modern spin on a Holocaust/World War II book. The past aspects were interesting but the present was extremely forced and it probably had to do with the Covid aspect but was just so cringey to read.

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A charming intergenerational coming-of-age story. Delightful writing. So enjoy this author’s voice. Engaged me from the start!

With great thanks to NetGalley and Henry Holt & Company for this e-ARC!

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Immediately the reader knows where this is going - a spoiled, lazy young writer quarantined with his holocaust surviving grandmother, writes her life story and finally grows up. Although we can guess the ending, the journey there isn’t any less sweet. It feels like a mix between The Seven Husband of Evelyn Hugo, Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, and Love, Lucy. The author does a great job telling a story that takes place during COVID and makes bold comparisons to the holocaust. I wouldn’t say the ending is anti-climactic, just very…normal.

A note for the editor: Julian’s sister has three different names. Arabella, Annabella, and something else I can’t recall.

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A confection of a story. It’s a chronicle on Hollywood’s hey dry. Mamie Kunstler and her family narrowly escape a horrible fate. Leaving Vienna just before the Nazi’s change life forever. The Jewish family settle in Venice , a bucolic place at the time. Mamie meets a variety of names before they were famous. It is during the pandemic that we meet Mamie, who is letting her grandson stay during lockdown. To occupy his time she tells these stories of how they came to settle and then live in a space that is dotted with names familiar and characters tga5 will stay with you after the last page.

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Cathleen Schine is an author with ideas and plots that fascinate and astound me. Yet in execution, her books leave me surprisingly cold. KÜNSTLERS IN PARADISE starts with a small Viennese family escaping Europe and arriving in Hollywood in 1939; jumps directly forward 80 years to an underperforming grandson sent to stay with his (now) grandmother in Hollywood after his life falls apart, and suddenly the Pandemic hits. There is so much to work with in this juicy creation of a plot. Just the comparison of Jews hiding before the Anschluss and everyone in the world sheltering in place for the Pandemic, provides a wealth of material. If only. Schine spends too much time with the unlikeable grandson and not enough with other characters. We can’t choose our family, except when they are book characters. I received my copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

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