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Fiction as History, History as Fiction: a Novel about Nazi Looted Art

April 15 @ 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm


Fiction as History, History as Fiction: a Novel about Nazi Looted Art

Keohane Distinguished Visiting Professor 2023-2024

Brett Ashley Kaplan, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


What happens when different displaced people come into convergence with each other? This talk will present a novel grounded in history that tackles this and other questions around loss, looting, and trauma.

Vandervelde Downs (a novel) uses a multivocal, braided structure to explore what happens when a famous painting by Velázquez is looted from a Jewish family in Vienna and may (or may not) have been hidden in a Vietnamese Refugee Center in England.  Loss, displacement, and trauma arising from the Holocaust, the Kindertransports, and the Vietnamese Refugee crisis are put into fantastical conjunction through a fictionalized version of the portrait as Poppy Solomon, Art Crime Agent Maxwell Johnson, and painter Mai Le Duong try to recover the invaluable canvas stolen from Poppy’s family. Poppy has inherited survivor guilt, Max has a lot to live up to in his aunt (a hero who helped save looted art), Mai struggles with the loss of her homeland, and the Nazi-sympathizing Bertrand Vandervelde turns out to be one of the most mixed-up art looters you can possibly imagine.


Please note event date has changed to April 15th.

A light reception will follow the lecture.

In-person event.
UNC Sonja Haynes Stone Center, Hitchcock Room
Directions & Parking in Bell Tower Deck ($1 after 5pm)
Free and open to the public
UNC Heel LIfe CLE credit will be available

The Keohane Professorship brings prominent faculty to serve as visiting professors at UNC and Duke for a one-year period, during which they deliver a lecture series and engage students and faculty around areas of shared interest to both institutions. Ultimately, the program is designed to energize new scholarly connections between Duke and UNC. This professorship recognizes the remarkable contributions of Nannerl Keohane during her term as president of Duke University, and the unprecedented level of collaboration she and former UNC Chancellor James Moeser facilitated between these two great institutions.


For 2023-24, Professor Ashley Kaplan is visiting Carolina and Duke campuses three times to give community lectures and academic seminars, visit classrooms, and meet with undergraduates, grad students and faculty at both campuses. This program is managed by the provost offices at both campuses, this year in collaboration with the Duke Center for Jewish Studies and the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies. The Carolina Center for Jewish Studies is pleased to be a partner in this series.


Brett Ashley Kaplan received her Ph.D. from the Rhetoric Department at the University of California, Berkeley in 2002 and is now a Professor and Conrad Humanities Scholar in the Program in Comparative and World Literature at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign where she directs the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, Memory Studies. Her first books, Unwanted Beauty: Aesthetic Pleasure in Holocaust Representation (2007) and Landscapes of Holocaust Postmemory (2011), examine the Shoah’s intersections with art and space. Turning to race in art and literature, she has published Jewish Anxiety in the Novels of Philip Roth (2015)She is the editor of Critical Memory Studies: New Approaches (Bloomsbury, 2023) and co-editor (with Anthony Russell and Sara Feldman) of the collection in progress, Blewish: Contemporary Black-Jewish Voices. Her first novel, Rare Stuff was published by Spuyten Duyvil in 2022, and she is at work on a second novel, Vandervelde Downs. She teaches classes in Jewish American Literature in Dialogue with U.S. Minority Cultures, Literary Responses to the Holocaust, Introduction to Theory, Introduction to Holocaust, Genocide, Memory Studies, Memory and Objects, and single author/auteur classes on J.M. Coetzee, Philip Roth, Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais.


April 15
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Event Category:


carolina center for jewish studies
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