Alchemy of a Blackbird

Atria. Jul. 2023. 288p. ISBN 9781668006559. $28. F
McMillan’s (Gilded Age) latest details the life of Spanish Surrealist painter Remedios Varo and her decades-spanning friendship with fellow artist Leonora Carrington, as well as the artists’ mutual interest in occultism and tarot. At its start, Remedios is living in Paris in 1939, a dangerous time, and is forced to flee to the countryside after the Nazi invasion of France. Reunited there with her older lover, Benjamin Péret, she learns about tarot reading and foraging from women she meets. When they’re forced to leave France entirely, Remedios and Benjamin travel to Mexico, where Remedios’s friend Leonora has also fled. Together again, the two women tap into their creative energies through learning about and creating their own occult practices. Full of stunning detail about historical tarot practices, the Surrealist movement’s treatment of women creatives, and the thriving artistic and intellectual community in postwar Mexico, McMillan’s novel tells of two real-life artists seeking to create despite being stifled by societal norms surrounding gender and class. McMillan’s inclusion of tarot-card illustrations and her pairing of characters with certain cards gives the characters further development.
VERDICT Readers of historical fiction and those who are interested in women’s roles in art and occultism will enjoy.
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