by Heidi Sopinka
A novel of love, longing, and art set in interwar Paris, The Dictionary of Animal Languages will appeal to readers of All the Light We Cannot See and The Disappeared.
Ivory Frame is a renowned artist. Now in her nineties, the famously reclusive painter remains devoted to her work. She has never married, never had a family, never had a child. So when a letter arrives disclosing that she has a granddaughter living in New York, her world is turned upside down and the past is brought painfully to life.
Disowned by her bourgeois family, the young Ivory had gone to interwar Paris to study art, and quickly found her true home among the avant-garde painters and poets who crowd the city's cafes. In fellow painter Tacita, she finds the sister she never had. In the Zoological Gardens, she finds a subject for her art capable of fascinating her endlessly. And in Lev, the brooding, haunted Russian 'migr' painter fleeing the Revolution and destined for greatness, she finds the love that will mark her life forever.
But she loses all this, and more, when the Second World War sweeps away the life she has only just discovered. In her grief, she turns to the project she had begun in Paris, and which will consume the rest of her life: a dictionary of animal languages. Part science, part art, the dictionary strives to transcribe the wordless yearning of animals, the lonely and love-laden cries that expect no response.
By nature solitary, Ivory withdraws fully into herself as she pursues her life's work. Until the discovery of one of Lev's paintings from 1940, inscribed to Ivory and now worth a fortune, brings to light a secret from her time in Paris that even Ivory could never guess. Now in her nineties, she is forced to acknowledge afresh all she has lost, and also to find meaning and beauty in a world defined by longing.
Masterfully written, and emotionally charged, The Dictionary of Animal Languages is about love and grief and art and the realization that, like tragedy, the best things in life arrive out of the blue.