Hidden Tapestry
by Debra Dean

Northwestern University Press, 2018. ISBN 978-0-810-13683-0.
Reviewed by Ann McCauley
Posted on 04/23/2018

Nonfiction: Biography

Recognizing the author's name led me to Hidden Tapestry by Debra Dean. It was like no other book I've ever read. (Her historical novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad, is one of my favorite WW II novels.)

Hidden Tapestry is the biography of a Flemish American artist, Jan Yoors. It starts in Europe before WW II and follows Yoors' unusual life—an intermittent vagabond childhood with gypsies, war-time resistance activities that lead to arrests and torture by the Gestapo. His post-WW II struggles and near starvation while he single-mindedly pursues his art. His love of art threads its way throughout the story of his life.

The marriage to his devoted first wife, Annabert, is followed by an affair with his wife's best friend from childhood, Marrianne, who was also his nude model. He persuades Annabert to understand his need for both women. Both women devote their lives to Yoors. They form a polyamorous family of three. Yoors, however, seems to be devoted only to himself and his art. Their love of Yoors and his art thread through the pages from post-war London, 1945-1950, and New York, 1950-1977.

Dean's research was thorough, and her writing unbiased and nonjudgmental as she created a historical biography that reads like an unbelievable novel. Yoors was born to a family of Flemish artists in 1922; and grew up with a bohemian liberal attitude as well as a deeply engrained cultural respect of art. Throughout his childhood His parents accepted his departures every summer to live among the gypsies, (i.e. Romas). He developed deep admiration for this unique group of people. In 1965 his award winning book, 'The Gypsies', was hugely popular. It is still the seminal work on the Romas.

In the shadow of post-WWII Europe, both wives struggled to keep food on their table, frequently surviving due to the charity of their neighbors. Both wives worked tirelessly, almost as slaves without complaints to complete his magnificent, highly acclaimed tapestries. He constantly lived above his means, while his wives worked to maintain their home and his lifestyle.

Yoors was an incredibly confident man, brilliant and could not be pigeon-holed into a 9-5 job or fidelity to his wives. It is a worthwhile read, very thought-provoking, the kind of book that stays with you long after reading the last page.

Debra Dean is a best-selling author of a short story collection and two novels, The Mirrored World and Madonnas of Leningrad. She teaches at the Florida International University and lives in Miami. For more information, visit her website.

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