There was a time when the family Künstler lived in the fairy-tale city of Vienna. Circumstances transformed that fairy tale into a nightmare, and in 1939 the Künstlers found their way out of Vienna and into a new fairy tale: Los Angeles, California, United States of America.
For years Mamie Künstler, ninety-three-years-old, as clever and glamorous as ever, has lived happily in her bungalow in Venice, California with her inscrutable housekeeper and her gigantic St. Bernard dog. Their tranquility is upended when Mamie’s grandson, Julian, arrives from New York City. Like many a twenty-something, he has come to seek his fortune in Hollywood. But it is 2020, the global pandemic sweeps in, and Julian’s short visit suddenly has no end in sight.
Mamie was only eleven when the Künstlers escaped Vienna in 1939. They made their way, stunned and overwhelmed, to sunny, surreal Los Angeles where they joined a colony of distinguished Jewish musicians, writers and intellectuals also escaping Hitler. Now, faced with months of lockdown and a willing listener, Mamie begins to tell Julian the buried stories of her early years in Los Angeles: her escapades with eminent émigrés like Arnold Schoenberg, Christopher Isherwood, Thomas Mann. Oh, and Greta Garbo. While the pandemic cuts Julian off from the life he knows, Mamie’s tales open up a world of lives that came before him. They reveal to him just how much the past holds of the future.
A People Magazine Book of the Week
An NPR Best Book of the Year
"A moving and entertaining novel about how we revisit memories to make meaning for ourselves and others. . . . Ms. Schine has a wonderful ability to weave research and substantive ideas into her novels without weighing them down. Her buoyant dialogue has the zip of great comedy routines."
—Wall Street Journal
"Schine’s delight in language is contagious—she offers up words like baubles, turning them this way and that to catch the light. . . . A paean to the regenerative power of storytelling and to Los Angeles itself."
—Kim Hubbard, New York Times Book Review
"The novel emphasizes echoes across history but explores intergenerational gaps, too, and—despite handling such weighty subject matter as survivor’s guilt, sexual repression, and the ongoing traumas of racial and religious persecution—maintains a remarkable lightness of tone and of characterization."
"Künstlers in Paradise is a tender family story, but it is also a profound meditation on the nature and power of storytelling, inheritance, and legacy, the malleability and perdurability of memory."
"Dreamy, drifty, and droll, studded with lush botanical description and historical gems. Schine’s many fans will enjoy."
"Reading like a cross between Leopoldstadt and Down and Out in Beverly Hills, this does the trick as an emotionally resonant meditation on family, memory, and the need for stories."
"Few authors could pull off what Cathleen Schine does in Künstlers in Paradise: creating a seamless, multilayered saga about family dynamics and relationships, immigration, the early days of Hollywood and the often disturbingly cyclical nature of history. . . . Künstlers in Paradise is truly a trove of unexpected rewards."
—BookPage, Starred Review