The Passion Dream Book
by Whitney Otto
"The main difference she could see between the male expatriate artist and the female expatriate artise was this; The men seemed to want to sleep around and drink, and the women wanted to be free of the expectations of marriage and children." (pg180)
Publisher; HarperCollins Publishers/New York/1997
Plot; A blending of fiction with history, The Passion Dream Book is a love story about artists and their tendency to migrate and colonize.
Beginning in Florence during the Italian Renaissance, the novel portrays a young girl named Giulietta Marcel, who is unconventionally apprenticed to her artist father. Dressed as a boy, she is engaged to spy on a famous artist who is at work on his masterpiece sculpture, David. She grows to want the artist and, at the same time, wants to be the artist.
Four hundred years later, Giulietta's descendant, Romy March, struggles with similar artistic aspirations in the sheltered comfort of her California home.
For Romy, to embrace the life of an artist would be quite unorthodox in the early part of the 20th century. Her love affair with Augustine Marks, a black photographer, provides the novel's structure: they are together, they break apart, they reunite, they move on as they drift to various artists' colonies - a movie studio in silent-era Hollywood, the Harlem Renaissance, the end of the twenties in Paris, London in the thirties, and San Francisco at the start of the Beat Generation.
Although Romy's devotion to Augustine remains constant, her artistic progression as a photographer grows at a different rate from her lover's and she must pursue her vision.
My Thoughts; I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was thrilled to be taken around the world by these splendidly loveable characters.
I admit that I have not read the book, but How to Make an American Quilt is one of my favourite films, so I went into this book with high expectations and I was not dissappointed.
The Passion Dream Book is a typical Otto, showing love's many guises; unrequited, unattainable, desperate, casual, unfulfilled, romantic, life-altering. And as I read through each character's story I felt both happiness and sorrow respectively.
Firstly I would like to talk about how the story has been constructed. Otto has divided this story into seven books and three chapters of information, which I think is very effective. The books clearly define the story into different eras and locations while the chapters offer additional information to help the reader immerse themselves in the story.
While this book is marketted as being about the conflict between love and work, with a particular emphasis on the decisions women have to make between the two, for me the story was more about social boundaries and what happens when you push them.
The three social boundaries which, to me, are most questioned are;
- the pressures on women, both during the Renaissance and the early years of the twentieth century, to choose a life of marriage and children.
- the strict social predjudices placed on relationships in terms of sexuality and race. And,
- the expectations put on children by their parents.
I think that Otto attacks these boundaries and questions them in a very respectful yet rebellious way and that is what makes the characters so appealing. They live in worlds where they are not allowed to be who they want to be, in worlds where they are looked down on and shunned just for wanting more for themselves.
Just quickly, I would also like to make a note of the art and artistic thought throughout this book. I have studied art and as a person who appreciates and enjoys art, of all forms, I found the rich desciptions of, not only the characters work, but the work of such artists as Michelangelo and Whistler to be beautiful and well contrived. Otto displays a sound understanding of art and artists which is easily conveyed.
I would recommend this one for the ladies, as a wonderful look into love and life. I would also recommend it to anyone who loves a good swoon over a French photographer or an Italian painter.