Leithauser Returns With Notable ‘Art Student’s War’

Cover ImageIn The NYT’s book review When Detroit Never Slept, Dean Bakopoulos called The Art Student’s War “…one of the finest novels about Detroit’s history to come along in years,” and stated that, “Leithauser is adept at writing about Detroit, and even more adept at writing about it from a young painter’s point of view.”

Brad Leithauser is back in town and will present his poetic novel The Art Student’s War on Saturday, April 24, 2010 as part of the Michigan Notable Books author tour. The appearance is scheduled to take place at 1:30 PM at the Detroit Public Library’s Elmwood Park Library Branch.

Originally from the metro area, Leithauser is delightful to hear in person and has a deep passion for the city.  In an email regarding The Art Student’s War, Mr. Leithauser was full of adoring conviction stating, “surely the stories of this amazing and maddening city must be set down.”

For those of you who are frustrated with the plight of the city, Leithauser’s Artist’s War takes you back to happier times in Detroit’s bumpy, ever-evolving history. True to the area, Mr. Leithauser also informed that his next book is “about a fine arts professor at an imaginary and deeply mediocre small college in Ann Arbor.”

As always, check dates, times and locations before heading out the door.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Leithauser Lifts With Literary Portrait of Detroit

Brad Leithauser read from and discussed his poetic novel The Art Student’s War to a full and appreciative audience at Borders in Birmingham last night. Originally from the metro area, Leithauser delighted by closing with a passage from the book that takes place in The Detroit Zoo. As the novel’s characters “rode the little zoo train”, Mr. Leithauser took many of us back to a happy, simpler time in Detroit’s history.

The main character of The Art Student’s War is Bianca (Bea) Paradiso, an attractive eighteen year-old art student who comes of age in Detroit during the heydey of the 1940’s. Assigned to draw portraits of hospitalized soldiers, Mr. Leithauser based Bianca’s character on his mother-in-law, who indeed began drawing portraits of hospitalized soldiers as a teenager during the Second World War. Though Leithauser said it would be wonderful if the book was outrageously priced and purchased for movie rights, his biggest fantasy is to have an actual portrait turn up from a reader or audience member; all he has of his mother-in-law’s portraits are “copies of copies of copies”.

Mr. Leithauser’s characters are all so poetic, I had to ask him which one he most identified with. He said Bianca, though she posed a “double obstacle” in that she was both eighteen years of age and a female; somewhat foreign material for an older man. That said, the author faced such conundrums as what Bianca should wear and what kinds of things she would do. Drawing on his experience of raising two girls now in their 20’s helped, and the author claims this work was a definite collaboration of efforts on the part of his family. Acknowledging  this wasn’t “a solitary work”, Mr. Leithauser credits his family for their efforts of multiple readings and catching mistakes.

When asked if there were places in the book that he felt particularly close to, Leithauser didn’t hesitate to say that the “DIA played a huge role” in his life. For him, the Detroit Institute of Arts was a “sign of a wider world”, a fact that is difficult to remember in these troubling times.

For me, The Art Student’s War brought home the reality that Detroit was once a thriving cosmopolitan city. Full of lush architecture, art, shops, and bustling growth, Detroit was a destination of the time and a place to be seen…

“…this feeling that was such a strong feeling within her:  this sensation she regularly experienced as she drifted through the outskirts of Detroit.  A sense of something not quaint exactly, not cute exactly, though very like quaint and cute:  this suburban conviction that fully real lives could be lived out here in Pleasant Ridge, in Royal Oak, in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills.  But how could anyone fail to register a steady diminution of spirit when traveling north up Woodward Avenue – from the heart of the city into its ancillary reaches?”

As Bianca attempts to express herself while heading out of the city, she brings about a nostalgic pleasure in a Detroit once full of strength and potential; a Detroit that is now difficult to conjure up in its current condition. However, The Art Student’s War will take you there. A colorful and poetic work, take your time with this one to fully appreciate Brad Leithauser’s “loving historical portrait of a now-vanished Detroit…”

-Post by Megan Shaffer