Member Reviews

I’ve noticed in recent years that it seems like a novel that’s just a good story is harder to find. Contemporary fiction is full of big social issues, psychological trauma, and family disfunction. For those who are into those things, fine, but for me, blech.

Not that this story doesn’t have depth. Mamie and her Jewish family fled their Vienna home shortly after the Anschluss, when Mamie was just 11, and settled in the Los Angeles “colony” of European artistic refugees from the Nazis. Without an encyclopedic description of the fascinating history of the colony, Schine paints vivid portraits of what it was like to be dropped into that circle of talented but often eccentric people who were supposed to be everlastingly grateful for their escape but found it disconcerting—at best—to be dropped into a world so foreign to their former lives in Vienna, Berlin, and other European cities.

Mamie has lived all her American life in Venice, from being full of refugees, to impoverished artists, to more than a little drug and crime, and now incongruously gentrified. She has made no changes to her little house, where she lives with has longtime housekeeper, companion, and now caretaker, Agatha.

Mamie is now 93 and her boomer son and daughter live in New York City and Chicago. Her favorite grandson, Julian, is the youngest child of Mamie’s son Frank. Julian, at 24, is a mess. A classic dilettante, he can’t accept his parents’ insistence that he needs to buckle down, choose a career path, and support himself. When Mamie breaks her wrist and asks if Julian can come from New York to Venice to help her until her cast comes off, it seems like a great idea.

Julian enjoys renewing his acquaintance with Mamie and getting to know the enigmatic Agatha. When the COVID pandemic hits, they become marooned together. Every day becomes ritualized. Then Mamie begins to tell Julian about the colony, her beloved grandfather, what Venice was like decades earlier, and about the relationships she developed from childhood with the composer Arnold Schoenberg and the reclusive actress, Greta Garbo.

It felt to me like for that first year of the pandemic, before the vaccine came along, Mamie and Julian were on voyages of discovery. Mamie was rediscovering her past and its meaning in her life, and Julian was discovering Mamie not just in relation to himself, but as a real person. It’s a funny, bittersweet, lovely story.

Note: This is just a small point, but I appreciate the cleverness of the book’s title. Künstler isn’t just a surname for Mamie’s family, it also means “artist” in German, so it’s a reference to the emigré colony of Mamie’s youth.

Was this review helpful?

If Jennifer Weiner is a heavy hitter in your collection, this is very likely a must purchase for your collection.

Was this review helpful?

Julian is a 29 year old New Yorker going through personal and professional challenges. He is sent off to Venice, CA to help his 93 year old grandmother as she recovers from a broken wrist. Then COVID lockdowns hit. She fills their days with tales of her interesting life from the time she fled Nazi-occupied Venice to settling into the emigre community in California and her interactions with some famous characters. Their bond deepens and Julian grows and develops.

Was this review helpful?

Hm, this is what we Brits call a mixed bag. At one point in the novel, there’s a comment about the pointlessness of banal,Holocaust books. This one is rarely banal, though occasionally it is, but it can be sentimental or even silly (especially about Greta Garbo) as well as tender and sometimes perceptive. Does it say anything new about the suffering, or the lives of emigres? I don’t think so. It can be entertaining, for sure, but it is a broadly-drawn picture, if an affectionate one. Its abrupt ending is another disappointment.

Was this review helpful?

I am a fan of Cathleen Schine and was thrilled with a chance to review “Künstlers in Paradise.”

Julian, like many young adults, is struggling. Hoping to give him some direction, his parents send him to stay with his grandmother, Mamie, and because of the pandemic, they have to shelter in place together. Mamie has faced her own struggles, including escaping from Nazi-controlled Vienna in 1939. Who knew there was an organization that assisted artistical émigrés in relocating to Los Angeles?

While I loved learning about Mamie’s struggles and passions, I also loved the connection created between Julian and his grandmother in present time. I really appreciated the similarities between Mamie and Julian even if they came of age in much different times. Cathleen Schine is just a wonderful writer who knows her characters so well, she simply has to allow them to do their thing.

My thanks to the publisher, the author and NetGalley for a chance to review this memorable book.

Was this review helpful?

Cathleen Schine is a new author for me, although I've read great reviews of her books over the years, so I'm excited to report that she definitely delivered on my high expectations--"Kunstlers in Paradise" was an absolute pleasure. Julian, a twenty-something New Yorker unmoored by the loss of both his job and his girlfriend in short order, is sent to Venice, California to help his glamorous 90-something grandmother, Mamie, after she breaks her wrist. The visit promises to provide an opportunity for Julian to get on back on his feet but shortly after he arrives, COVID strikes and he finds himself unexpectedly and indefinitely quarantined with Mamie and Agatha, her mysterious housekeeper-cum-"dogsbody." Soon, however, the three settle into a comfortable routine, with daily visits from the "jingling tray" for afternoon martinis, over which Mamie regales Julian with tales from her childhood in Vienna in the early days of the Nazi regime, her escape to Santa Monica with her family, and her connections with some of the most famous figures of the German emigre community and with stars including Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo. There are definite "Travels With My Aunt" vibes here; Mamie is a tour-de-force character who could have carried the book quite comfortably on her own. But Mamie's deepening relationship with Julian, and his maturation under her tutelage into a responsible adult, gives "Kunstlers in Paradise" extra depth and charm. I have to add that it's refreshing to see a woman of Mamie's age depicted with such sensitivity, grace and fun. This definitely ranks high on my list of pandemic books--and in fact was one of my favorite books of recent years.

Thank you to NetGalley and Henry Holt for providing me with an ARC of this title in return for my honest review. Highly recommended.

Was this review helpful?

This is a gentle book structured as memories are structured; stories are told, retold, abandoned and revisited. To describe the plot is to sell the book short. It’s simply the story of a young adult grandson sent to care for his grandmother during the pandemic, in Venice, California. But this is grandma Mamie’s book, as, whether driven by boredom or an unburdening, or an act of love, she tells the story of her life, from her earliest days in Nazi occupied Vienna, to her days in her 90s in America.

And this is not just any story. She and her family add relationships of one type or another with the entire group of European émigrés during and after WWII. It manages to be history of one specific family, but the immigrant experience as a whole.

Page to page, it is sometimes difficult to understand where the book is going, but over the fullness of this relatively short novel, you learn all you need to know.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Henry Holt & Co. for this lovely advance readers copy.

Was this review helpful?

Very entertaining and well written. This is my kind of story; about real-seeming people. The contrast and similarities of the different generations was very interesting too.

I really appreciate the free ARC for review!!

Was this review helpful?

A lyrical beautiful written novel a coming of age story during turbulent times.So engrossing I hated to put it down and leave their world.#netgalley #henryholt

Was this review helpful?

This is a really in-depth amazing story fall as a young woman coming of age during a really turbulent time. I absolutely fell in love with the lyrical language. Incredibly grossing story was also one ages.

Was this review helpful?

I loved visiting the paradise of the Kuntslers, and enjoyed the basic story. We are now seeing novels responding to the nightmare of the Covid pandemic. Schine manages to eliminate the darkness and bring us a beautiful pandemic/coming of age/love story.

Julian Kuntsler is lost in Brooklyn. He seems aimless and disconnected from the harsh realities of what it means to be an adult. He is banished by his parents for a visit to his grandmother, Mamie in LA. It is there that he winds up spending his Covid exile. Such an enchanted period when his grandmother shares her stories with him and with us. She was part of the emigré community in Hollywood, narrowly escaping the horrors of the Holocaust.

As Julian learns her history, she shares wonderful stories about that time and her life. The stories really engaged me and as they entertained. Schine has a very special knack of writing about the elderly with sweetness and respect. She has done that in earlier novels and succeeds again here. Mamie and her companion, Agatha, are delightful.

Even the ending, charming and unexpected, provides an appropriate end to Julian’s visit to paradise.

Thank you Netgalley for this charmed visit to paradise.

Was this review helpful?

Kunstler's in Paradise is a lovely tale of a grandson, Julien, age 29 and his grandmother, Mamie, 93. Julien, a native New Yorker ends up spending time with Mamie and finds that what he knows and has expected out of life is not the only path that he can take.

Mamie's grand stories are what compromise most of their time together. Starting in the late 1930s Vienna when she and her family were chased out by the Nazi's - all the way through Hollywood and to her current location in Venice Beach. Her adventures are engaging and I was sorry when they ended.

The conventions between the difference generations are fascinating as they are radically different and yet amazingly parallel - or at least similar.

I highly entertaining read

Was this review helpful?