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Keohane Distinguished Lecture: Fiction as History, History as Fiction: a Novel about Nazi Looted Art

Monday, April 15, 2024
5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Brett Ashley Kaplan

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.

Brett Ashley Kaplan returns to UNC for the third and final Keohane distinguished lecture of 2023-24. 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.

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. 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. 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.

This event is at UNC - interested Duke students should contact with their NetID for transportation options.