It’s a delight to welcome author Laurie Nico Albanese to Colloquium for the first time!
Laurie is the author of Stolen Beauty, a story of love, war, art, and family detailing the lives of two extraordinary women and the true story behind the creation and near destruction of Gustav Klimt’s most remarkable paintings. Adele Bloch-Bauer was young, beautiful, brilliant, poor and Jewish when she met Klimt in 1900 Vienna. She was drawn to Klimt’s genius and eccentricity, and they become part of a world where sex and art are escaping the bonds of society, but a disturbing increase in anti-Semitism and political unrest overshadow coffee house afternoons and cultural salons.
Nearly forty years later, Adele’s niece, Maria Altmann, is a newlywed when the Nazis invade Austri and Vienna is transformed into a war zone. Her husband is arrested, her family is forced out of their home, and Maria must follow Adele’s example of courage and resilience to survive, keep her family’s history alive, and preserve their legacy — the paintings that Adele nearly sacrificed everything for.
Stolen Beauty intertwines the account of the two women’s journeys, focusing on their capacity to love, destroy, and, most importantly, endure.
How I (Really) Manage all that Research
I’ll let you in on a little secret: doing research for historical fiction is absolutely . . . fun. It’s enjoyable. It’s delicious and adventurous.
Sure there are hours hunched over my laptop or pouring over picture books and images of old newspapers (which to me is also fun). But novels are built on scenes, and scenes are built upon people moving through the world, eating, drinking, getting lost, finding love, sleeping in big fluffy beds (or cramped in small apartments) and walking through their city streets – streets I love bringing to life in a panorama of words, objects and sensory details.
For my research on Adele Bloch-Bauer and Gustav Klimt’s lives at the turn of the century, I traveled to Vienna and spent a day bicycling along the Danube River through Austrian wine country. I climbed up on temporary scaffolding to study Klimt’s famous “Beethoven Frieze” at the Secession gallery near the Naschmarkt off the Ringstrasse. I rowed a boat in the crystal aquamarine waters of Lake Attersee, near the Alps, and spent hours in Viennese cafes drinking coffee and eating apple strudel ladled with thick whipped cream. How else could I know what the lake water felt like when Klimt dove in? How else could I describe the rich upholstery, high ceilings and sound of silver and tableware at Café Central, where Adele spent long afternoons?
Most of Adele’s letters and journals were lost, and Klimt barely wrote anything. This was lucky for me as a fiction writer, because it gave me a lot of freedom when I was creating Adele’s voice. I read Collete’s Claudine at School so I could understand how a savvy teenager might think and feel about sex, boys and men in roughly 1900. I hung a poster-size copy of the portrait, “Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” on my office wall, and lived with it until she became nearly alive to me.
I’m always keenly aware of the need to honor the lives of the people I’m recreating in fiction. It’s important to get dates and facts right, and for those I used basic reference materials, scholarly sources, and The Lady in Gold – a wonderful nonfiction book about Adele, Maria, and the portrait by the journalist Anne-Marie O’Connor. But no matter how much research I do, it’s the intimate moments and the voices of the narrators that make a novel come to life. And for that I needed to go to Vienna. Three times.
I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
Laurie is the author of two novels and a memoir: Stolen Beauty, Blue Suburbia, and Lynelle by the Sea. She co-authored the novel The Miracles of Prato. Her books have been translated into Spanish, French, German and Portuguese. She has worked in book publishing and journalism, and her travel and general-interest stories have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and other publications. Laurie has also taught creative and formal writing to all ages, from elementary schoolchildren to adults.
Each of Laurie’s books has been chosen for the IndieBound list by independent booksellers. Other awards include a Hadassah-Brandeis Institute Research Grant, a New Jersey State Council in the Arts Fellowship in Fiction Writing, and a Catherine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowship to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Laurie grew up on Long Island and graduated from New York University with a degree in journalism before earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. She loves to walk, meditates and practices yoga, plays tennis, kayaks, and swims. She resides with her husband in Montclair, New Jersey. They have two grown children.