I Am a Stranger on the Earth fits perfectly into the context of young adult literature. Dobrin’s style is simple, straightforward, and not burdened by excessive detail or statistics. The book does not preach or moralize, and the author does not talk down to his readers. He recounts accurately and simply the tragic life of the artist and leaves his readers to draw their own conclusions.
Dobrin offers young people, who often are at the point of forming their own value systems, an example of a truly great individual with noble ideals who refused to see any but his own point of view and who paid for his intransigence by leading a tragic life. At the same time, Dobrin relates the tireless, selfless, brotherly devotion of Theo.
The quotations from van Gogh’s letters beneath or beside the illustrations reveal much about the artist’s character. He had the ability to see beauty in the face of a poor, tired peasant woman. He admired the moss-covered, thatched roofs and blackened chimneys of country cottages. He had a sympathetic love of peasants and laborers, an urgent desire to communicate his appreciation of life, and an absolute need to capture the essence of reality and to reveal its beauty to others. Van Gogh thought that a life without love was a sinful and immoral condition and that there was nothing more truly artistic than to love other people.
The quotations also reveal that van Gogh was deeply religious in an...
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Numerous other biographies of van Gogh exist; his letters to Theo were published as early as 1927 and have since been collected and published by other authors, including Irving Stone. Another book designed for a young audience, which is more like a pamphlet, is Album LV, Vincent van Gogh in the Metropolitan Museum of Art series Miniatures, distributed by the Book-of-the-Month Club of New York in 1952. The text that accompanies each reproduction is written by Margaretta M. Salinger and, like Dobrin’s book, contains many quotations from van Gogh’s letters to his brother, as well as portions of Theo’s letters. The main difference between this pamphlet and Dobrin’s book lies in the former’s emphasis on van Gogh’s avowed mis-sion to humanity: to project in paint the beauty and the joy of nature. Dobrin addresses this theme but puts more stress on the artist’s failure in his personal relations and on his development as a superb painter.
The story of van Gogh’s life is a tale that appeals to imaginative, altruistic young adults and that may at the same time inform them about the perils attending nonconformism. As portrayed in I Am a Stranger on the Earth, van Gogh is a heroic but tragic figure.