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Blue Arabesque by Patricia Hampl

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Review Excerpts

Columbus Dispatch – December 27, 2006
“This pleasingly compact book is part autobiography, part art history, part philosophy, part biography, part literary critique and part travelogue. In essence, it’s a long personal essay of the sort that has almost died out: one in which the reader gets to watch the writer’s mind at work, with all its quirky detours onto unfamiliar bypaths. Blue Arabesque loops and weaves into an intricate depiction of a staunchly individual mind making meaning out of the world.” – Margaret Quamme

Chicago Tribune – December 24, 2006
“In her newest book, the beautifully titled and brilliantly conceived Blue Arabesque, Hampl turns to art as a source of illumination. No one else would imagine, let alone conduct, the spiraling mind-journey Hampl takes readers on in her exhilarating tale of discovery. Musing over Matisse's lush odalisques leads to a scintillating discussion of the misconceptions and fantasies Europeans harbored regarding harem life... [and] a shimmering analysis of modernity and the fragmentation, even the industrialization, of time. Blue Arabesque is a paean to art and the art of contemplation.” – Donna Seaman

America: The National Catholic Weekly – November 6, 2006
“[Hampl] takes us to France, to the Holy Land... She shifts time and genres easily, from childhood to the present, from art history and theory to biography, travelogue and personal journal. Along the way we are treated to fascinating bits of information on earlier artists and other travelers, as well as ideas that counter current stereotypes. And though Blue Arabesque is sprinkled with clues that her Catholic faith “bedevils her,” this pilgrimage in search of the sublime is a spiritual one. Much is left for the reader to consider and pursue after reading this joy-filled and intriguing book.” – Sally Cunneen

Cleveland Plain Dealer – November 5, 2006
“Patricia Hampl is a seeker, a restless and determined one. In Arabesque, Hampl writes... about travel and tourism, about leisure and beauty and creation and failure. She ends her book with a brief meditation on what she calls ‘divine nonchalance’ and ‘the sacred ease of creation.’ Matisse's best work, she says, displays these qualities. So does Hampl's. In her early poem ‘Woman Before an Aquarium’… Hampl writes: "A mature woman always wants to be a mermaid." Hampl achieves just such a metamorphosis here, swimming gracefully through the tricky currents of art and history, biography and memoir. Singing yet another beguiling verse of her career's lovely song.” – Daniel Dyer

Time Out New York – November 2, 2006
“The first paragraph of Patricia Hampl’s compact memoir Blue Arabesque suggests a story inspired by impression and ambiance rather than chronology. There is no clear time line here—just the relaxing flow of Hampl’s memories and gracefully intuited thought. In the end, Blue Arabesque feels like Hampl’s Matisse on that fateful day in the Chicago Institute of Art—dreamy, with a lulling depth of color and pattern. At the center is a woman at ease, running her practiced and rigorous gaze across various people and places, leaving us with glimpses of her world.” – Kelly McMasters

New York Times Book Review – October 29, 2006
“Blue Arabesque isn’t a memoir so much as it is a paean to the act of seeing, celebrating our capacity to be transformed by the truths art holds, recognizing them as... holy. Patricia Hampl’s determination to occupy the space between the eye and its object and her success at articulating the mysterious transactions therein grants her authority among writers like Berger and Sontag, who not only sit and stare but see. Read Blue Arabesque and you too might mistake — or exchange — art museums for churches.” – Kathryn Harrison

Entertainment Weekly (EW Pick) – October 27, 2006
“In this sinuous meditation on artistic inspiration, poet Hampl revisits the figures who have meant the most to her, including Henri Matisse, Katherine Mansfield, and eccentric Minnesota-born filmmaker Jerome Hill. In just over 200 pages of honed prose, she segues gracefully from discussions of Matisse's tense marriage to an alternative feminist interpretation of harems (‘not a caged life, but a silken chamber’) to a critique of tourism to her own Catholic girlhood. Though overly precious in places, this tiny, brainy book is nonetheless a treat.” – Jennifer Reese

Los Angeles Times – October 22, 2006
“Hampl's new book, Blue Arabesque, is... the history of one woman's relationship to the act of seeing. What's most inspired about Blue Arabesque is that its form echoes, with apparent effortlessness, the "impersonal floating world" of Matisse's painting, and in reading it, one sees the intricate, omnidirectional workings of the writer's mind. Her ruminations are always selective, streamlined for the sake of greater immediacy… She illuminates and distinguishes among the many ways we apprehend our surroundings - the gaze and the glimpse, seeing and sightseeing, the insolent leer and the clear-eyed observation.” – Bernard Cooper

Booklist (Starred Boxed Review) – September 15, 2006
“Hampl’s memoirs of discovery are exhilarating. She brings a poet’s love of language, fluency in patterns and modulations, and fascination with the life of the mind to unusual aesthetic, spiritual, and cultural inquiries. Her most sensuous, sinuous, and radiant book to date arcs from contemplation of a painting by Matisse. Entwining the gold gleaned from her inspired research with bright strands of autobiography and unforeseen turns of thought to create finely filigreed prose, Hampl does with words what Matisse does with line and color, that is, reaches to the essence of perception, ‘not simply what was seen, but how seeing was experienced.’” – Donna Seaman

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) – September 11, 2006
“In this discursive and absorbing interdisciplinary work, Hampl… sets off on an intellectual journey that leads her from Matisse’s odalisques to those of Delacroix and Ingres, then outward to the larger notions of orientalism and exoticism that pervade such works. The pleasure of reading this book comes from following Hampl as she skips swiftly from one subject to another. Whether discussing the journals of Katherine Mansfield or the harems of the 18th century, Hampl proves to be an authoritative and beguiling guide to the joys of leisure and the intellect.”

Library Journal – September 1, 2006
“In this personal essay, Hampl explains that, as an English major, her career goal was to be left alone to read an endless novel while observing and musing about the world. She entwines her thoughts on the stories of Katherine Mansfield, the artworks of Matisse, the poetry of Rumi, and more. She examines cloisters and harems, women and leisure, tourism and travel, and visual arts and the printed word. It is Hampl’s insight and humor that make this gem worth consideration. Recommended for academic libraries.” – Joyce Sparrow

Kirkus (Starred Review) – August 15, 2006
“Hampl, poet and professor, has crafted an emotional memoir that begins in 1972, when she first saw the painting, Woman Before an Aquarium. Hampl uses Matisse’s story (and his fondness for the odalisque) to pursue her own interest in the concept of leisure, of having the time to think, to look, to note, to create. Images of water and fish and blue backgrounds and bright sunlight and religion occur throughout, and when they reappear, it’s as if an old and valued friend has returned bearing another gift. An artful, affecting memoir whose lessons arrive in a delicious whisper.”

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