Book Review

“And when no hope was left inside on that starry, starry night, you took your life as lovers often do.”

So goes the line from Don Mclean’s hit song “Vincent (Starry Starry Night)” about the life and death of Vincent van Gogh, painter par excellence, and known as the art world’s “tortured soul.”

Dr. Arenberg, a retired ear surgeon and a van Gogh fanatic, begs to disagree. The final sentence of his preface resounds, “He was murdered.” Thirty years of studying Vincent’s short life of 37 years led Dr. Arenberg to that conclusion. His book presents his arguments to support this allegation; he explores the why, where, and how of the murder of this revered icon. He uses both the available historical evidence and the tools provided by modern forensic technology. Then he proposes a who! If you love art, know van Gogh, or enjoy forensics, this book will keep you hugely entertained.

While I waited for this book to download, I was worrying that there was an error because it was taking so long. Finally, I had this huge PDF file of 70MB.

Killing Vincent: The Man, the Myth, and the Murder is a fascinating book on many counts. The file is so large as it contains a lot of pictures; it’s a virtual art gallery of Vincent’s works. He is known to have produced around 900 oil paintings during his painting years (only ten years); the book has around seventy of them. Awesome! The author recounts Vincent’s life, focusing on his last three days. He is said to have shot himself in a field, walked a mile back to his quarters, and died 30 hours later. I got to know the people contemporaneous to Vincent well, as if I were there watching them as they interacted. Vincent and beloved brother Theo, friend Paul Gauguin, doctor Paul Gachet and son Paul Jr., and model Adeline all come alive in the pages. Heaps of evidence debunking the suicide theory are in the book. The author definitely convinced me. I was almost moved to curse those scheming hypocrites who killed Vincent! The book is arranged methodically; one can easily navigate the pages and reread portions desired. Most chapters end with a helpful summary. The author’s unreserved admiration for Vincent shines through; it doesn’t hurt that I am a Vincent fan myself. I so want to give this book a perfect rating. But I can’t.

While the book is heavily researched, the editing leaves much to be desired. There are various grammatical errors, including wrong verbs, inconsistent spellings and misspellings, faulty sentences, and bad punctuation. There are various sentences, even whole paragraphs, that are repeated for no apparent reason. We find at least 300 figures (photos, paintings, or diagrams) in the book; there are times when these are incorrectly referenced. Two sets of figures are numbered 80 to 93, adding to the confusion.

I support Dr. Arenberg’s dogged pursuit of the truth surrounding Vincent’s demise. He perseveres in clearing Vincent’s name of the stigma of suicide, although many in the art world think it “blasphemous” to say Vincent did not kill himself. Will any of the rich art collectors finance the further investigation of Vincent van Gogh’s death in 1890, so the truth can be told? I certainly hope so.

In the meantime, I urge Dr. Arenberg to polish his book, so it can be a masterpiece worthy of the master he “pays homage to.” Right now, the book gets 3 out of 4 stars.

P.S. Van Gogh’s paintings gained fame only after he died. He sold only one painting during his lifetime; it earned 400 Belgian francs in 1889 (equivalent to US $2000 today). He died a pauper. In contrast, his most expensive painting sold for US$82.5 million in 1990. His most famous work, “The Starry Night” (referred to in the song), is speculated to fetch US$300 million if ever it will be auctioned. Whatever way he died, one truth remains: Vincent’s star will shine forever.

~Miriam Molina,, Nov, 17 2018