Sunday, May 6, 2018

Debra Dean's "Hidden Tapestry"

Debra Dean is the bestselling author of four critically acclaimed books that have been published in 21 languages. Her debut, The Madonnas of Leningrad, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year. She teaches creative writing at Florida International University.

Dean's latest book, Hidden Tapestry: Jan Yoors, His Two Wives, and the War That Made Them One, tells the remarkable true story of Belgian-American artist Jan Yoors – childhood vagabond, wartime resistance fighter, polyamorous New York bohemian – and the two women who agreed to share his life. Best-selling author Ross King has called this “one of the most remarkable artistic stories of the twentieth century.”

Dean applied the “Page 99 Test” to Hidden Tapestry and reported the following:
From page 99:
Sheltered and naive, Annabert experienced most of the war at a muted remove, as shortages, inconveniences, and the unvoiced anxiety of grown- ups. Just a young Dutch girl, and neither Jewish or Gypsy, she was kept ignorant of the horrors so many were enduring, but as she wrote later, [it] vibrated in the atmosphere around me. This is worse because the truth concealed becomes monsters of imagination and fear. On a few occasions, she saw things that troubled her. Once, coming out of school, she saw a soldier punishing one of her schoolmates, beating him for no apparent reason. Annabert ran over to the boy, and at the sight of his bloodied face, she began to cry uncontrollably. Even when a teacher came outside and tried to shush her, she could not be soothed.
Given this one page, a reader might expect a more straightforward narrative than I’ve written. This page doesn’t really represent the whole, but I don’t think there’s another that would. An imaginary index in the back would include entries for ‘Pollack, Jackson’ next to ‘Polygamy’, and ‘Warhol, Andy’ next to ‘Weaving’ and ‘World War II.’ The very thing that drew me to this story—its epic sweep and psychological complexities—also makes it challenging to summarize. But I’ll give it a go.

Hidden Tapestry moves through the underground worlds of the Roma, the WWII Resistance, and post-war Greenwich Village. It’s a social biography following three people who eventually formed a polygamous relationship: the Belgian American artist, urban bohemian, and war hero, Jan Yoors, and the two friends, Annabert and Marianne, who agreed to share him and who wove the magnificent tapestries he designed. They knew each other as children, but World War II tore them apart, so the first part of the book shuttles between their separate wartime adventures and ordeals. Jan served in the Resistance, first as a saboteur and later setting up an escape line to ferry endangered people out of Occupied Europe to safety in Spain. He was in and out of German prisons, tortured, and sentenced to death. Marianne lost her mother and sister in the year before the war, and then her father disappeared. Unbeknownst to her, he was Jewish and had gone into hiding, so she spent the rest of the war dodging the Nazis.

Page 99 marks the beginning of a chapter titled “Annabert’s War.” Compared with the other two, Annabert’s experience of war was milder. But this is a relative term: her family was forced to move inland and then, like most Dutch citizens, she starved during the Hunger Winter in Holland.

Eventually, they found each other again and then made the decision to form a polygamous marriage (what they termed “a threefold cord”), and to dedicate their lives to art and beauty. They left Europe and moved to Greenwich Village because this is where you went if you were an artist or a bohemian or simply wanted to live without the judgment of your neighbors. Here they created the first tapestry studio of its kind in America. It’s an account of resilience, resourcefulness, and passion.
Learn more about the book and author at Debra Dean's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Mirrored World.

Writers Read: Debra Dean.

--Marshal Zeringue