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The Jump Artist by Austin Ratner
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The Jump Artist

by Austin Ratner

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This is a highly fictionalized account of the life of Philippe Halsman. As a young man, Halsman was falsely accused of murdering his father while on a hiking trip in the Austrian Alps. The fact he was Jewish may have been a factor in his arrest. After two traumatic years in prison, his family managed to secure him a pardon. He worked hard to reinvent himself as a photographer in France in the late 1930's. When the war encroached on Paris, he managed to flee to America with his family. After years of adjustment he would eventually establish himself as a leading photographer for Life magazine capturing many of the most notable faces of the twentieth century. The writing is often pedantic, dark, and hard to follow due to a train of thought style. The constant infusion of foreign phrases, mostly German, while adding atmosphere, also slow down the flow. It's almost as hard to get through this book as it was for Halsman to achieve his fame. ( )
1 vote Ronrose1 | Jun 25, 2013 |
Received my copy from the Penguin Books UK Proof Readers circle.

This is a fictionalised account of a little known event in history - Halsman is accused of patricide after the death of his father whilst the pair are walking in the Alps. He is found guilty, spends several years in jail, but is finally pardoned on condition that he leaves Austria, never to return.

He recovers from Tuberculosis whilst in France, trains as an engineer, but ends up taking photographs. His talent increases, and he starts to become well known for portrait photographs (doing the covers of Vogue etc). Finally, WWII starts, and he and his family escape France for America, where he finally achieves fame as a photographer of the famous.

This is not a dry, non-fiction biography. Especially in the first section of the book there are jumps in narrative time, sometimes in the same chapter, once in a while the same paragraph. Slightly disconcerting, it however makes the story telling quite fluid.

I didnt feel emotionally connected to Halsman very much throughout the book. I dont know whether that was on purpose or not by the author. Halsman did come across as rather emotionally restrained, feeling the need to punish himself if he felt his emotions were too out of control. There were times where he comes across as OCD and almost autistic in not being able to react the correct way towards others (and especially girls).

The title refers to a series of portraits (including Monroe) where he takes their photos whilst they are jumping. ( )
  nordie | Jun 20, 2012 |
I had known of Philippe Halsman as a photographer but knew nothing of his personal life until I read The Jump Artist, a novel based on research into his life. Still, the book does not claim to be a biography, and the author has fleshed out the basic facts with his interpretation of Halsman's thoughts and deeds.

Halsman was accused of murdering his father while they were hiking together in the Tyrolean Alps, and spent time in prison. He was Jewish and lived in a very dangerous time and place during the rise of Hitler, the victim of anti-Semitism, quite obvious in his trials. Philippe had a conflicted relationship with his father, as many young men do. After the murder of his father, he became depressed and self-destructive and he pushed away all the people who loved him. The book is well-written, with some beautiful language. There are interesting quotes at the beginning of each chapter and foreign language phrases that are not always translated. For me, some of the sentences didn't make sense until I read further. A bit of the writing was almost stream-of-consciousness, especially that involving sea life.

As to how he became a photographer, I appreciated the quote “at the gallery they asked me how I became a photographer and I said it happened as a girl sometimes becomes a prostitute – doing it first for herself, then for friends, and finally for money.” The book was not dumbed down to make it a happy, light read. Even though this is a short novel, it is a serious book. There is a retrospective of Halsman, including some of his fabulous portraits, at http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/halsman/. ( )
1 vote TooBusyReading | Dec 30, 2009 |
Showing 3 of 3
“Ratner knows how to use rhythms and metaphors to evoke a sensory, psychologically grounded reality that writers with vastly more experience than him would envy.... [a] subtle, moving novel.”
added by blpbooks | editThe Forward
 
“A story of tremendous resonance.” (Listed as one of the most promising debuts.)
added by blpbooks | editPublishers Weekly
 
“Transcend[s] the bounds of historical fiction.”
added by blpbooks | editBooklist
 
“This elegantly-written tribute makes as beautiful a use of the darkness and light of one man’s life as a Halsman photograph of a pretty young woman.”
added by blpbooks | editGQ
 
“A remarkable work . . . [that] documents a triumph of the human spirit over tremendous adversity.”
added by blpbooks | editHarper's magazine
 
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Philippe Halsman is famous for his photographs of celebrities jumping in the air, for putting Marilyn Monroe (among countless others) on the cover of Life Magazine, and for his bizarre collaborations with surrealist Salvador Dalí (“Dalí Atomicus,” Dalí’s Mustache). What is not well known is his role in the “Austrian Dreyfus Affair,” which rocked Europe in the years leading up to WWII. While hiking in the Tyrolean Alps, Philippe’s father was brutally murdered when Philippe went ahead on the trail. The year was 1928, Nazism was on the rise and Philippe, a Jewish 22 year old from Latvia, was charged with the murder. He spent several years in an Austrian prison and the trial became a public scandal that pitted many prominent intellectuals, including Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, against the rising tide of fascism.

The Jump Artist is evocative psychological fiction based on this true story. Austin Ratner has extensively researched Halsman’s life and tells the extraordinary tale of a man who transforms himself from a victim of rampant anti-Semitism into a purveyor of the marvelous.
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Evocative psychological fiction based on the true story of renowned photographer Philippe Halsman, a man Adolph Hitler knew by name, who Sigmund Freud wrote about in 1931, and who put Marilyn Monroe on the cover of Life magazine. Surviving an episode that presages the horrors of WWII, Halsman transforms himself from a victim of rampant anti-Semitism into a purveyor of the marvelous.… (more)

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