The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal

Releasing today, a unique fictional account about a famous and ground-breaking Rembrandt painting.

Book Review:

Character driven and intricate, this is a fictionalized background story of the Rembrandt painting ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholas Tulip’ and adds layers of complexity that bring the impetus for the painting alive. Dated to 1632, it is important to note that this painting depicts what was, in the day, a sort of social event for the scientific community. Unlike the closed and often illegal studies done some two centuries earlier by Michelangelo, medicine was in an upsurge, and such scientific experimentation and dissections were becoming the norm. 

Narrated in first person by each of the characters, with the two exceptions being Dr. Tulip and Descartes, the use of this narrative with a focus or lean toward a specific part of the body that ‘speaks’ to the individual acts to broaden the immediacy and feel of the story, and transforms what is essentially a relatively passive activity into one that increases in import for both readers and viewers of the painting.

My only complaint with the story is the foreshadowing that results from the present-day conservator’s notes: this information often jumps the narrative and takes away the freshness of the perspective that was so well imagined.

While this novel may not win over serious observers of Rembrandt’s work, for those of us with only a nodding familiarity with his work, or without the opportunity to see the remains of the painting in the present day, this is an engrossing work that gives new perspective on a classic and priceless work, and will fill imaginations on your next visit to a gallery or museum.

The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal

Title: The Anatomy Lesson
Author: Nina Siegal
Genre: Literary Fiction, Literary Fiction /Historical Setting
Published by: Random House
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Pages: 288
Audio Length: 9 Hours: 9 minutes
Rated: four-stars
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Set in the Dutch Golden Age, an engrossing historical novel that brilliantly imagines the complex story behind one of Rembrandt's most famous paintings

Commissioned by the Amsterdam Surgeons’ Guild, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp was the first major Rembrandt work to catapult the young painter to international fame. Taking this painting as its inspiration, Nina Siegal’s novel The Anatomy Lesson opens on the morning of the medical dissection and follows several characters as they prepare for the evening’s big event: we meet Aris the Kid, a one-handed coat thief who is awaiting his turn at the gallows; Flora, the woman who is pregnant with his child and who hopes to save him from the executioner; Jan Fetchet, a curio collector who also moonlights as an acquirer of medical cadavers; René Descartes, who will attend the dissection in the course of his quest to understand where the human soul resides; and the twenty-six-year-old Dutch master himself, who feels a shade uneasy about this assignment. And in the twenty-first century, there is Pia, a contemporary art historian who is examining the painting.

As the story builds to its dramatic and inevitable conclusion, the events that transpire throughout the day sway Rembrandt to make fundamental changes to his initial composition. Bringing to life the vivid world of Amsterdam in 1632, The Anatomy Lesson offers a rich slice of history and a textured story by a young master.

A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

About Nina Siegal

Nina Siegal is an author, editor, and journalist. She graduated with a BA in English Literature from Cornell University and received her MFA in Fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Siegal's second novel, THE ANATOMY LESSON, is forthcoming from Nan A. Talese/Knopf Doubleday in spring of 2014. She has received numerous grants and fellowships for her fiction, including a Fulbright Fellowship in Creative Writing, two MacDowell Colony fellowships, and the post-graduate Jack Leggett Fellowship from Iowa. Her first novel, A LITTLE TROUBLE WITH THE FACTS, a neo-noir comedic murder mystery, was published by HarperCollins (New York) in 2008 and was top finalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship.

Siegal's journalistic writing has appeared in dozens of newspapers and magazines, including The International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, W. Magazine, Art in America,1stDibs, ArtNews, and Bloomberg News. She has been contributing articles to The New York Times since 1997 and currently writes about art frequently for The International New York Times. In 2008, she was the launching editor for Time Out Amsterdam magazine, which she ran as editor-in-chief until 2012, and thereafter she became managing editor of Flow Magazine International, which launched in 2012.

She was born in New York, has lived in San Francisco, Iowa City, Brooklyn, and, now, Amsterdam.

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