By Deborah Heiligman
Godwin Books, 2017, 454 pages, Young Adult Non-Fiction
The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers' lives. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Heiligman draws on the letters Vincent and Theo exchanged during Vincent’s lifetime to weave a tale of two lives intertwined as Theo supported Vincent's struggles to find his path in life.
I came away from reading this book with the realization that you can’t really understand Vincent Van Gogh without also knowing his brother Theo. Vincent started painting rather late in life, after a few other failed career attempts, and as an art dealer, it was Theo who encouraged Vincent in his passion and pushed him to aim higher. Theo was Vincent’s harshest critic, and biggest fan.
Heiligman doesn’t shy away from discussing hard topics like Vincent’s mental illness and his passionate struggle with religion. Despite its length, this book felt like a faster read since it’s cut up in small sections and written for a young adult audience. A color insert with some of Vincent’s most famous paintings came in useful as well since Vincent took his subjects from everyday life.
Heiligman’s interesting perspective on the life of Vincent Van Gogh made me want to read another of her books: Charles and Emma, which is the story of Charles and Emma Darwin. I’m also curious to see what interesting duo she’ll write about next.