From her arrival in Paris on the train from St. Petersburg, the author chronicles the tempestuous relationship of Angeline Beloff and the Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Drawn to art above all else, Beloff submits to the rigors of her profession with meager resources, attending local schools for artists that are popular in Paris. Studying with Matisse, Angeline hopes to learn the new styles but soon realizes that she will have to define herself in a city overflowing with creative vision.
It is 1909, and Paris is the home of innovative techniques, a few geniuses scattered among the throngs of painters, many showing their work in the popular Paris salon competitions. In a natural marriage of artists to city, Paris brims with talent - Picasso, Modigliani and others, the great names of an era.
From pre-revolutionary Russia to World War I, Beloff’s ten turbulent years with Diego Rivera begin with a grudging friendship, only later growing into passion. Angeline spends her first tentative days in Paris with her new friend, Spanish painter Maria Blanchard, another artist who harbors feelings for Rivera.
But once Diego meets Angeline in Bruges, he is unable to see anyone but the talented newcomer, gradually seducing her with flattery and natural charm. Beloff finds her place in Paris and at Rivera’s side, her new life defined by her increasing affection for Rivera and, ultimately, the imminence of war.
While marriage to Diego is the natural progression of Beloff’s passion for her work and her man, her problems are only magnified by the union. Diego is congenitally incapable of fidelity, a hedonist who denies himself nothing for the sake of his art. Though circumstances draw him away then back to Angeline, Rivera is inconsistent while she anguishes over long nights he spends in other women’s beds.
Wartime Paris takes a terrible toll on those who remain. Hardships are familiar to Angeline: anything can be endured. It is the emotional pain that devastates her, even work unable to assuage her heartbreak over Diego’s infidelities. As tortured as the gifted artists obsessed with their work, Beloff is synonymous with the suffering city and the fate of faithful women spurned by their lovers.
She remains unable to break free from her tormentor even after the death of their baby son. It is only with the aid of a group of American friends that Beloff survives her losses, their support buoying her through the most harrowing days of grief. Her great love affair come to an end after ten years, Angeline is resigned to her fate, a footnote in a vivid period of Parisian history.
Her struggle made tangible in a novel filled with drama, art and discovery, Beloff transcends her pain, treading the streets of Paris where penniless artists inspire genius in one another, love and loss left tattered on the wartime boulevards, their stories an indelible part of Belle Epoch Paris.