The Woman Who Heard Color (Book Review)

The Woman Who Heard Color (Book Review)

The Woman Who Heard Color (Book Review)

This is a case where there is a horrible cover that is unrelated to the good book within. But for that I would have read this book sooner, so shame on me for “judging a book by its cover!” How they came up with that cover I do not know. If I had designed it there would be an amorphous bunch of bright colors or a detail of a Kandinsky painting or maybe piles and piles of paintings.

This book is about the woman who Hitler recruited under house arrest to deal with all the “unacceptable,” “degenerate art” which included everything from Van Gogh to whatever was more modern. He had a whole warehouse of it confiscated, and while abhorring it–kicking his foot through some of it– he knew it was valuable, and that selling it could help fund his activities. So Hanna, the main character, was to pick two lots of 126 of them for sale, and the rest would be destroyed.

Married to a Jewish gallery owner who knew, courted, and represented the great artists in Germany early in the twentieth century, she understood what she was looking at, and what it was worth. She loved this art and had spent her life promoting it. Many of these kinds of paintings had hung in their own home, and had been sold through their gallery. She hated to see the demise of so much remarkable art. Was there a way to save any more of it?

“Hanna felt that the right of artistic expression which Kandinsky himself believed originated in the soul, was as essential and important as the right to life itself.”

There is a side story as well about the fate of a certain Kandinsky painting the family had owned. This part of the story leads up to recent history, and because of that, the tale bounces between the twentieth and twenty first centuries.

Hanna and Kandinsky both had the condition of synesthesia–being able to hear color and see the colors produced by specific sounds– which accounts for the title of the book. However, that aspect  was only a small fragment of the book. Most reviewers who were dissatisfied with this historical novel wanted this condition to be more front and center, which it was not. The odd condition may also account for the inappropriate cover, even though it is touch and smell suggested on it. I feel both the title and the cover are misleading, and a change in both would have contributed to a much stronger, more cohesive book.

Meanwhile, I liked the plot and content of The Woman Who Heard Color, and if you are interested art history or World War II, I think you might as well. Through it I obtained a much clearer view of what happened in the art world in Germany during both world wars. Plus, it is just a good story, with a satisfying ending. I give it four stars.


I work to amplify good wherever I find it. I love color, texture, beauty, great ideas, nature, metaphor, deliciousness, genuine spirituality, and exploring new territory. I encourage authenticity, nurture creativity, champion sustainability, promote peace, and hope to foster a new renaissance where we all are free to be our most fulfilled, multifaceted, and terrific selves. Read more here.


  1. John gregory 3 years ago

    Looks like a “bodice rending” cheap novel. Sounds very interesting. It shows the real fear awakened in ART by those who wish total control of others. ART is a way out…..

  2. Liz 3 years ago

    Sounds like a good one. I’ll have to look for it. Always interested in art history, and in that particular period it is fascinating to me how art survived. Thanks for the review.

  3. Deborah 3 years ago

    Read this book a few years ago (with a different cover). It was an excellent read with so much information. I became a fan of Kandinsky.

    • Author
      Polly Castor 3 years ago

      Interesting! I’ve been a Kandinsky fan since early childhood looking at my mom’s coffee table books!

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