Any reader who enjoys genre bending and a good mystery will likely appreciate Artifice by Sharon Cameron. Set in Amsterdam in 1943-1946, the novel is most clearly a historical fiction piece about the Holocaust, but it’s not “just another Holocaust story.” In this account, Cameron focuses on the efforts of Resistance workers who set out to save the children. An estimated 600 Jewish toddlers and babies were saved from death in the concentration camps.

It is also a story about art. Isa De Smit lives in a home that houses Gallery De Smit, a place that is “full of art and artists. Lessons in her mother’s studio. Inspiration in her father’s garret. Loud. Busy. Bright with creativity and color” (20). Her friends are artists, sculptors, and the occasional poet.

When Isa is fourteen, her mother dies and her father struggles to find inspiration—not only to paint but to go on living. As his light dims, business slows. When Isa turns fifteen, the Nazis confiscate her city. Under Nazi rule, times are difficult. At age eighteen when the taxes come due and the cupboards are bare, Isa decides to sell a forged painting to the Nazis. During this time period, out of necessity and for the purposes of survival, the Dutch would sell their precious art, taking what the Nazis would give them.

After the sale, Michel Lange, a Nazi soldier wishing to defect from his post, pays Isa a visit and reveals that he knows her secret. This discovery sets in motion a series of events that keep the reader intrigued. Isa wonders: “What if she could use the Nazis’ own ignorance—their greed—to trick them into paying for the rescue of the very children they were trying to kill?” (35).

This dangerous and reckless plot to defraud a murdering Fascist government sets in motion relationships and events that open the door to several big questions: “How many children could be saved with a million and a half guilders? How many people? How many brides paid? Weapons purchased? Could they take back the Netherlands?” (115). Was it possible “to get the country back with a painting? And even better, with a forgery” (116)? Better yet, is it possible that a Nazi could be fighting on the side of angels?

Cameron’s plot makes the novel’s title one with many layers. Along with Isa, Michel, Truus, and Willem use clever and cunning devices to trick or deceive others. Yet, they all have secrets of their own, and this insincere behavior and their selfish motivations may cause the entire scheme to unravel. If Truus, Willem, and the Resistance have their way, Germany will be driven out of the Netherlands. In the meantime, the world is marred and discolored. And these conditions, Isa believes, might be “too big to un-become” (73). But perhaps, with ingenuity, clever stratagems, and artful skill, beauty might return to the ugly world.

  • Posted by Donna

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