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Alchemy of a Blackbird

A Novel


About The Book

For fans of The Age of Light and Z, a mystical, historical novel based on the true story of the 20th-century painters and occultists Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington, each beginning as the muse of a famous lover and then breaking away to become an icon in her own right through a powerful friendship that springs from their connection to the tarot.

Desperate to escape the Nazis, painter Remedios Varo and her lover, poet Benjamin Peret, flee Paris for Villa Air Bel, a safe house for artists on the Riviera. Along with Max Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, and others, the two anxiously wait for exit papers. As the months pass, Remedios begins to sense that the others don’t see her as a fellow artist; they have cast her in the stifling role of a surrealist ideal: the beautiful innocent. She finds refuge in a mysterious bookshop, where she stumbles into a world of occult learning and intensifies an esoteric practice in the tarot that helps her light the bright fire of her creative genius.

When travel documents come through, Remedios and Benjamin flee to Mexico where she is reunited with friend and fellow painter Leonora Carrington. Together, the women tap into their creativity, stake their independence, and each find their true loves. But it is the tarot that enables them to access the transcendent that lies on the other side of consciousness, to become the truest Surrealists of all.

From an author with “an enchanting, intoxicating voice” (Cristina Alger, author of The Darlings), Alchemy of a Blackbird is about a dynamic female friendship that became a historic artistic collaboration between two giants of the art world.

About The Author

Photograph by Molly Nook

Claire McMillan is the author of Alchemy of a Blackbird, Gilded Age, and The Necklace. She was the 2017–2018 Cuyahoga County Writer-in-Residence and currently serves as a member of the board of trustees of The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Massachusetts. She practiced law until 2003 and then received her MFA in creative writing from Bennington College. She grew up in Pasadena, California, and now lives on her husband’s family farm outside of Cleveland, Ohio, with their two children.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (July 11, 2023)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668006573

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Raves and Reviews

“A dazzling kaleidoscope of surrealist voices animates this beguiling novel of artistic ambition, perseverance, and friendship. Set against the backdrop of the Second World War's great artistic exodus, Alchemy of A Blackbird insists on the essential role art plays in the lives of its two dynamic female protagonists—Lenora Carrington and Remedios Varos. McMillan transports us to the magical, uncanny world of the Surrealists by deftly using tarot--a practice vital to the art of both Carrington and Varos—to shape her narrative in unexpectedly dramatic and evocative ways. I wanted to linger along the French Riviera and get a coffee in Veracruz, Mexico with her incredible ensemble cast of characters. And maybe, if I was lucky, have them offer me a tarot spread, too." --Katy Hays, author of The Cloisters

"Alchemy of a Blackbird is enigmatic, inventive, and rich with love and longing, art and magic. A story told in the captivating voices of artists and their patrons, the novel explores fascinating lives in a state of profound upheaval, making for irresistible drama as the characters travel the world in search of beauty and peace." --Timothy Schaffert, author of The Perfume Thief 

"A chorus of fascinating voices, including the mystical and wise voice of the tarot, guides us through this powerful and immersive novel. Claire McMillan asks the most important questions about our lives and answers them with a book about the enigmatic alchemy of art, the transformative power of friendship, the mystery of unseen guidance, and the deep wounds and healing aspects of love. Alchemy of a Blackbird is an unforgettable adventure, and one you don’t want to miss: I loved it."--Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Book of Flora Lea

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