The Bridal Chair

Written by Gloria Goldreich
Review by Terri Baker

The Bridal Chair is a sprawling novel that reclaims historical space for a woman behind a great male artist by surveying some thirty years in the life of the daughter of modernist painter Marc Chagall. Through her narrative of Ida Chagall’s life, Goldreich covers some of major historical turning points, making this book feel like a quick tour through Franco-Judaic-American history from the early 1920s to the 1950s. A major draw for this novel is its primary setting: Paris during the 1920s, when modernist artists travelled to Paris after World War I, convening in the places that would become forever associated with them: Café du Flore and Les Deux Magots. This novel offers a romantic’s Paris, using these two allusions to modernism as a short-cut to trying to recreate this era.

The first half of the book is its most compelling, with young Ida struggling against her overprotective parents as Hitler prepares to conquer Europe and destroy the Jews, including famous artists like Marc Chagall. But Ida’s father, conceited about his own fame and the importance of his art, does not fear the advancing Nazis and their Final Solution. It is only with Ida’s persistence, and with the help of a network of art dealers, curators, and American philanthropists, that Marc Chagall and his wife Bella escape to New York City in 1941. The rest of the novel falls flat, following Ida’s ascendance in the art world as a representative of her father’s work, the disintegration of her marriage, and her battles with the women who try to take her dead mother’s place. At the novel’s core is Ida’s evolving relationship with her egotistical father and the painting he gives her on her wedding day: The Bridal Chair. By the end of the novel, you might regret having spent time with these characters.