The Marriage Artist, by Andrew Winer
This is an intricately woven novel which incorporates grand themes such as love, marriage, death, history, religion, and art. Most of the characters are Jewish, and there are two main plots.
The first plotline involves a love triangle between Josef, a famous gifted artist, his friend Max, who is doubly doomed, being Jewish and gay, and Hannah, who is depressed. The story begins in Vienna in 1928, when 8-year-old Josef meets his grandfather, a rabbi, and discovers a talent for drawing Ketubah, an ornate Jewish marriage certificate. “After all,” his grandfather states, “Marriage demands of us the impossible. It is a job for which there is no apprenticeship – a riddle no one has ever solved. And the husband and wife, naively jumping into this great mystery, are left to shape it according to a vision they don’t have. This is where the Ketubah comes in. A Good Ketubah, in words both practical and poetic, in beauty that is symbolic and personal to the bride and groom, illuminates the mystery of the union of man and woman. A Good Ketubah helps give them a vision, a start.”
Joseph draws many Ketubah but becomes disillusioned when the reality is the Ketubah does not guarantee happiness. He meets Max and they both swear to never get married. Many years later Josef meets Hannah when they are both trying to flee from Hitler’s regime. They are married in line at an emigration station, both intending to go to Palestine. But they never leave and Hannah becomes pregnant with baby Herman. Max secretly loves Josef and is not pleased to share him with Hannah. All three of them end up in the concentration camps.
Baby Herman escapes the fate of the concentration camps and grows up to be a Buddhist. Herman’s son Benjamin becomes a troubled, gifted artist like his grandfather.
The second plotline (taking place in present-day New York) involves an art critic named Daniel Lichtmann, whose wife Alexandra has a suicidal affair with Benjamin. The deaths occur at the book’s beginning, and Daniel tries to discover why this happened, and unravels the stories of Josef, Max, and Hannah.