Saturday, February 11, 2006

Birth of Venus - Sarah Dunant (February/06)

While browsing my local bookstore one day, I came across this novel. I would like to say that I bought it to broaden my artist mind and that I knew completely what I was buying myself into, but that would be false. In truth, I bought the book because I really liked the title. I suppose my mind was thinking of all the meanings behind the title, the university student coming out in me.

In this novel, Sarah Dunant tells the story of Alessandra Cecchi. I was very happy to learn, after I impulsively bought this book, that it told the story of a female living in Florentine. I enjoy reading novels about women from history, and not just the famous ones, the regular ones, or in this case fictional, are interesting to learn more about as well because it gives an interesting perspective to the historical periods. I personally enjoyed Alessandra because she was not like the rest of the women of her time, and that was enjoyable to me because I like novels that show strong women. She spoke her mind and did not let anyone tell her what was going to happen, she tended to tell them.

In the novel Alessandra is an aspiring painter, something that was unheard of for her time being that she was a woman and it was only the 15th to early 16th century in this novel. Women were expected to be good wives and mothers, they were not expected to have likes and dislikes outside of that. It was an especially rocky time religion-wise, as a man by the name of Savonarola has taken power following the death of the cities old leader, and he believed he had a direct link to God. With him in power, peaceful Florentine goes from pristine to a city of hellfire. Savonarola believes that many things are against Gods plan and preaches his sermons so well that many people leave thinking that God actually did tell them to do things this way. He makes rules for the city to follow and turns the city of grandeur to almost a ghost town because most activities were restricted and women’s rights were further constrained. He has a town eating out of his hand until the pope gets wind of it. It is interesting to see how the holy pope took care of the situation.

Alessandra, meanwhile, finds herself married to a man that is not at all what she expected. He has a rather large secret, but he lets her lead the life that she wishes and encourages her to think and paint. She also learns secrets about her past and her family that cause for some interesting scenes to enfold in the novel. Then, there is her painter. The back of the book points this out as one of the most important encounters in the novel, and while I admit it is important, I think a lot more is going on in the novel than just her infatuation with his art. He is a quiet man from another country who comes to her house in order to paint the family chapel. Through him, Alessandra learns about art and many other things that haunt will her throughout the novel, but she is truly the only person that cares enough to make sure that he is okay; the rest of the household appears to have better things to occupy their time with. You really see the artist flourish as the novel progresses, but a lot of mystery surrounds him that often leaves you wondering just who he really is and if he is an actual famous painting worked into the narrative or just a regular man. He is not forthcoming with his name.

Birth of Venus may start slowly, but as it progressed, I found myself drawn into the novel and wondering what was going to happen next. Not to mention my not being able to put it down issues. I warn, though, I found the beginning painful, so be prepared for that. I also do not suggest reading the last 200 pages in the middle of the night, if you reach that point it is better to put the book down until a more suitable hour of the day. I think the end justifies the slow start, though, and while I would not call this the best book I have ever read, it was definitely worthwhile. I think that anyone that likes either historical fiction, art, or just a good story will find what they are looking for in the tale of Alessandra and her Italian family set during a rocky period in history.


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