I love reading about World War II. I don’t read about the soldiers too much or the war strategies. Instead, I love reading true stories about every day citizens who were swept up in the war and what their experience was. While I’ve read many, many stories of Holocaust survivors, I also enjoy reading about those who were not Jewish but still suffered greatly under occupation.
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The Missing Matisse by Pierre H. Matisse is one of those stories with a twist. The author is the grandson of famed artist Henri Matisse.
Pierre Matisse was born in 1928. While the beginning of the book covers his time spent in France and Spain and the time he visits his famous grandfather and gets a surprise art lesson, the bulk of the book covers his experience in World War II.
Pierre was just 11 when his father signed up for the war and told Pierre he’d have to be the man of the family, taking care of his mother and his younger brother, Gerard. However, Pierre, a mischievous child, frequently spends time away from his mother and brother. He stays in Paris with his beloved aunt, Tata, and he spends time in boarding schools.
His father is taken as a prisoner of war and manages to escape. Pierre and his mother and brother manage to leave occupied France to travel to unoccupied France to reunite with Pierre’s father.
However, the family is not reunited long as Pierre is once again shipped off. Reading the book, I felt sorry for Pierre who never spends much of his childhood with his family. Instead, he is in a variety of bordering schools and staying with Tata and later a family called the Leroys.
When Pierre is 12, his surname is changed from Matisse to Leroy. His mother explains that it’s for his protection when he enters a new boarding school. The change in name makes Pierre feel alienated from his family and confused. Little does he know that this feeling will last until his late 60s when he finally changes his name back to Matisse. Over the years, he learns the story behind the name change, but that just seems to lead to more confusion for him.
Overall, I loved this book and highly recommend it. However, there were some things that confused me. One thing I found peculiar is that Pierre’s father, once he escapes, never goes back to the war. Is he discharged? Is he AWOL? Why does he not go back to the war as a healthy and able soldier? Also, Pierre’s family seems to have great difficulty communicating. There is a huge secret in this family, and no one seems able to talk about it. I would have liked to have known why they were so secretive and why Pierre eventually seems to cut off all contact, though not necessarily intentionally, with his family.
While I loved the book, I would have appreciated having a further explanation for some aspects. Having said that, the author does offer a Q & A that helps explain some of these mysteries.
I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.