The Boy with the Blue Cap: Van Gogh in Arles
Llumina Press (2008)
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (2/09)
Ah, the power of words! To have the power to adequately describe with words what our eyes are seeing is a true gift, and not too many have it. Oh yes, most of us try, but the words fall flat all too often. Norman Beaupré’s “The Boy with the Blue Cap” is proof that it can be done. Choosing a tough subject, a couple of years in the life of the controversial and so very misunderstood artist, Vincent van Gogh, Norman Beaupré manages to bring to life both the artist’s great works and the region where he painted them, the Provence and more specifically, the town of Arles.
The fascinating tale is told through the eyes of a young boy, Camille Roulin, who befriends Vincent and whose family van Gogh would paint often. Although this is a work of fiction, Camille’s father Joseph, the Postmaster, was truly friends with van Gogh while the artist lived in Arles, so the fantasy is neatly mixed with real history here. The historical facts abound in the book, from the description of many of the actual paintings to the artist’s visit to the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the capital of Camargue, which is a pilgrimage site for the Roma people. Roma, or gypsies, as many people know them better as, come to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to honor Sara-la-Kali (Sara the black). While the part of the book dealing with the gypsies and their curse upon van Gogh is fiction, it adds an aspect of suspense to the tale.
Camille is a precocious child, an artist in his own right, although unlike Vincent, Camille paints with words. Through his eyes and the notes from his trusty notebook, the reader gets to “see” many of van Gogh’s masterpieces and to understand van Gogh’s point of view and his philosophy much better. The added innocence of a child transforms this into an entirely magical, if sad story. One of the facets of the book that I liked best was how it showed that this friendship between Camille and Vincent was not a one-way street – they both benefited from it and they were both encouraged by the support from the other.
Norman Beaupré’s words are just as vibrant and exploding from the pages as some of the most colorful van Gogh’s works. His characters, even the ones in the smallest cameo roles, are vivid and thrilling. Provence lives and breathes in those pages. “The Boy with the Blue Cap” by Norman Beaupré leaves me with two great desires, of which one is much more attainable than the other. I’d love to go back to Provence and experience the luminosity and brilliance of it again – and I need to get to the library and borrow a book on van Gogh’s paintings to refresh my memory. That too is part of the power of words – it inspires us and sets us on wonderful quests.