In 1967, 16-year-old Elsbeth Lindner opened a copy of London’s Daily Express to find an article about The Beatles’ newly released album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, complete with a full-page illustration of the cover and a key to its dozens of characters.
There toward the back of the upper right-hand side was her uncle, modernist painter Richard Lindner, looking over the shoulders of Laurel and Hardy.
That discovery, and her uncle’s visit to her family’s home in England soon afterward, propels Elsbeth Lindner’s new book, The Meeting, so named for both her one and only meeting with Richard Lindner, and the title of his most famous painting, which is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
The Meeting, which is due for publication in March, traces the travails of her family through Nazi Germany and across several continents, and delves into the complicated relationship between her father, Arthur Lindner, and his older brother, Richard.
The saga comes full circle when Elsbeth finds her uncle’s final resting place in Hastings-on-Hudson, just 15 miles from her home in Scarborough.
Lindner has had a career as a publisher of adult fiction and women’s writing, and more recently as a journalist (including contributing to The River Journal), book reviewer and writer.
Here’s a Q&A with the author, which has been edited for brevity:
The River Journal: What led you to trace your family history for this book, and why now?
Elsbeth Lindner: Unlike most other people I know, my experience has been an absence where they have both family connections and an established, located history. All my life I’ve been conscious of these absences, and the associated feeling of rootlessness, of not knowing where I belong. So putting the story together, assembling all the scraps into one narrative seemed like a positive if small act of restoration. I actively began to think about the book when I first moved to the USA in 2002. Before that, my uncle’s life seemed simply too remote. But once living in New York, it began to seem possible to contact people whom he knew, and visit places he had inhabited.
RJ: What surprised you most about what you discovered?
EL: That my uncle was a man, gifted and flawed, not the mythic figure that I had long held him to be. The process of reading his letters, and combing files and references brought him down to earth and rounded him out. Not the glory boy, he was instead a quirky, short-tempered, company-addicted but intensely judgmental figure, comical and also serious, fickle and also loyal. And decidedly complicated when it came to sexual relationships.
RJ: Was it hard to piece together the family correspondence and documents to follow this story across generations and continents?
EL: I researched the files of my uncle’s friends and associates … also his gallerists, the museums that showed his work, the institutions that awarded him recognition. It was instructive and took me to corners of New York and elsewhere I wouldn’t otherwise have visited, from archives to graveyards. It was a labor of love as well as a journey of discovery, not especially hard but also incomplete, as some of the secrets will never be revealed to me or anyone else.
RJ: What does your uncle’s link to rock’n’roll history mean to you today?
EL: I think Richard the painter matters more to me than the Sgt. Pepper moment, yet that moment is a perfect encapsulation both of his peculiar career – in which fame arrived from the least anticipated or relevant direction – and my connection to him, being a child of the sixties myself.
The Meeting will be published in March by Harbour Books. Email harbourbooks.co.uk for information. The book’s United States publication will be announced at a later date.