This novel, told from the point of view of 14-year-old Lara Callaway, tells of life among a group of avant-garde artists and thinkers who escaped from the early days of Hitler's Third Reich in 1937. When her mother, Lenora Calaway, moves her art collection and her entourage to Mexico, Lara laments not having a mother who pays attention to her. Loosely depicting the relationship between the heiress turned art collector Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter Pegeen, Maum focuses on the various eccentric personalities of the group, especially her mother's current husband, along with Lara's struggles being cooped up with little to do except paint and write notes, journal entries, and unsent letters to her brother in Germany. The secondary characters are all male, except for Hetty, a writer, whom Lara finds "horrible." Lara sounds mostly like a petulant teenager as she rages against her situation, yet she occasionally analyzes her situation from a mature viewpoint. Having been taken out of school, she longs to study again, if only to relieve her boredom. Narrator Frankie Corzo conveys Lara's youth convincingly. VERDICT This audiobook will appeal to listeners seeking an amusing, sometimes informative glimpse into a unique assemblage of personalities.—Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo
Maum’s third novel (after Touch) is a rich and delectable tale of art, love, and war. The narrative, which is based on Peggy Guggenheim and her set, is enlivened by 14-year-old narrator Lara, who elevates the book from juicy gossip to a beautiful meditation. The year is 1937 and Leonora Calaway, a wealthy art collector, has gathered up the artists “the Führer decided were the most degenerate in Europe” and sailed to Costalegre in Mexico, where Surrealists and Dadaists, writers and painters, all live together to wait out the coming war. Her neglected daughter, Lara, always a tag-along on her mother’s globe-hopping adventures and the only child to be found in Costalegre, writes in her diary that she’s “burning up inside to have someone just for me.” As the Mexican heat and the lack of news take their toll, a new figure, Dadaist sculptor Jack Klinger, arrives, charming everyone, especially Lara, who feels, like the artists, drawn to him. The highlight is Lara, whose searching intelligence and insightful observations anchor the story. This is a fascinating, lively, and exquisitely crafted novel. (July)
In this story where our 15-year-old narrator is more mature and intuitive than the adult artists who surround her, bursts of brilliance hit mechapter after chapterlike waves crashing against the shores of this allegorical Mexican coast. With its captivating mix of true-to-life characters and WWII history, Costalegre is surreal, intelligent, and full of integrity.
Here is war and here is art. And here is a child trying to become an adult in the midst of a Mexican exile. Maum’s stirred a brew of careless Bohemians, Führers and failed art students, negligent mothers and missing museums. Costalegre is as heady, delirious and heartbreaking as a young girl just beginning to fall in love with our world.
This story of a daughter searching for connection all around her has a sharp cutting edge, a world which changes its mood in an instant; bleak as the dregs of a wine-soaked dinner, then bullish as a house of hapless surrealists attempting to boil an egg. Memorable and meaningful, Maum's work remains with me as a reminder of love in the agony of teenage years and art in the terror of war.
Mesmerizing and unsettling, Costalegre is a wonder, and Courtney Maum shows herself once again to be a writer of many gifts. This is a book for anyone who’s ever loved, and not felt sufficiently loved in return; and for anyone who’s had to try to grow up; for, that is, everyone.
Courtney Maum's Costalegre is a marvelso lively, intimate, and strange you don't read so much as dream the voice and visions of Lara, our 15 year old narrator writing from a house full of surrealists in Mexico, as they wait out WWII. This is an unforgettable book, by a writer who proves on these pages that she can do anything.
When young Lara finds herself in Costalegre, living with her mother and a gaggle of 19th century surrealist artists, wonder and mayhem ensues. With this slim novel, Courtney Maum has gifted her readers with a breathtaking meditation on youth, art, and the ever-mysterious bonds between mothers and daughters. Costalegre is a spectacular high-wire act that dazzles and devastates.
With both humor and criticality, Maum’s coming-of-age novel probes the hypocrisy of the art world, the challenges of being a child of artists, and the dangers of not being loved.
Maum’s coming-of-age novel among some of Europe’s elite is heartbreaking in its evocation of a teenage girl whose mother collects artists to save but who ignores the daughter struggling not to drown. Maum captures the language and the intense flux of adolescent lability. She does it so well that readers may feel they’ve intruded on something private.
An arty, lavish novel, Costalegre examines one of the relationships that is often the most surreal to dissect: the one between mother and daughter.
If anything can be taut and lush at once, Maum's novel fits the bill.
A brilliantly arch and haunting novel of privilege and deprivation.
It's 1937, Hitler is in power, and American heiress Leonora Calaway is stockpiling so-called degenerate artworks to keep them safe and transporting both them and a group of surrealist friends to Costalegre, the luxuriant Mexican paradise she calls home. She has taken along her teenage daughter, Lara, who narrates the story, offering an intimate look into the art world and the complicated and precarious relationships among the people her mother has gathered. Lara keeps a diary, illustrated with a few of her sketches, exploring her own amorous feelings and describing her frustration with trying to get her mother's attention. By the end, Lara realizes that although these surrealists believe that passion and nightmares are important, "they don't value simplicity, which is how I think of love." VERDICT Inspired by Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter, Pegeen, this mother-daughter dysfunctional relationship is beautifully explored by Maum (Touch) in a soul-searching, atmospheric novel set in a hot, humid climate as torrid as the affairs of the characters who inhabit it.—Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH
A young girl follows her mother and a wayward group of artists into the Mexican jungle on the eve of World War II in this spare, enchanting novel.
Fourteen-year-old Lara Calaway just wants her mother to notice her. Instead, Leonora, a wealthy New York socialite, is more interested in collecting members of the avant-garde. There's Konrad, a traumatized painter, whom Leonora marries; C., Konrad's longtime lover, a forceful and dedicated writer with hair that "floats around her face like an evil halo"; and the loathed Hetty, "the only other woman with us in Mexico…[who] is just horrible." Maum (Touch, 2017, etc.) depicts Lara's curiosity and longing in exquisite, diary-style vignettes, sketches, notes, and unsent letters. "He'd be so beautiful if he were happy," she muses about Konrad, her new stepfather. "Sometimes at the parties when I catch the way he is with C., I hate my mother for the way she has to have the things that everybody likes." According to Maum, Leonora and Lara Calaway are based loosely on Peggy Guggenheim and her daughter Pegeen while the artists who make up "the entire bin of loons" at Costalegre are composites of surrealists like André Breton, Leonora Carrington, and Djuna Barnes. Lara makes for a fine narrator—young enough to be both enchanted and annoyed by the strange collection of adults that surround her and old enough to explain her frustrations with heartbreaking clarity. Only occasionally does Maum allow her teenager to really sound like a teenager, and then it's played for laughs. "If she ends up putting her museum here," Lara writes of Costalegre and her mother, "I am going to die." Occasional theatrics aside, Lara blooms when she encounters a Dadaist sculptor from Germany, moved by his work and his ability to really see her, "you know, in that way that feels like something has been thrown directly toward you, as if you're on the other end of a straight line." The novel closes as quickly as it opens, in a moment of teenage confusion, rage, and hope.
A lush chronicle of wealth, art, adventure, loneliness, love, and folly told by a narrator you won't be able to forget.