Author: Sheramy Bundrick
Sunflowers was eye opening, despite the liberties Sheramy Bundrick took in building Rachel Courteau's character out of a real person about whom very little is known. Fact and fiction were intricately laced but the author was careful not to leave the reader clueless as to what was what. The Author’s Note at the end of the book explains which characters truly existed, which ones were made up and which events were created or skewed to aid in the telling of the story. Not all historical fiction novels I’ve read provide this kind of helpful information.
The story is told from the perspective of Rachel, a prostitute who becomes the object of Van Gogh’s desire. He begins frequenting her brothel and bringing her small gifts and tokens of his affection shortly after meeting her in a garden. Before long the two fall in love against the advice of Rachel’s Madam and fellow prostitutes.
I was surprised that the ear-chopping happens relatively early in the story, about a third of the way through the book. I had expected it to be the climax of the book which only shows how ignorant I was to Vincent’s real story. He lived almost two years after the incident though he suffered from hallucinations and increasingly long “attacks” which some modern doctors now label as bipolar episodes. Other theories on his condition range from epilepsy to lead poisoning.
Using quotes from Vincent’s own letters to open each chapter, Sunflowers not only tells an entertaining story but provides a glimpse into what may have been Vincent’s true personality. The reader is invited to fall in love with Vincent along with Rachel and it's easy when he is revealed as an endearing artist rather than simply that crazy guy who chopped his ear off. With each interaction between he and Rachel, Vincent became more human and I found myself rooting for his recovery despite my knowledge of the outcome. For those who know little about art history, like me, or just those enjoy a sad love story, this book is a great read.