Sunday, July 23, 2006

Review of The Birth of Venus by Sarah Durant

2004, Random House Publishing
397 pgs
Rating: * (Very Good +)

First Sentence: No one had see her naked until her death.

Reason for Reading: The story sounded interesting and it came highly recommended.

From the Publisher: "Alessandra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel walls in the family's Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter's abilities." But their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra's parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man. Meanwhile, Florence is changing, increasingly subject to the growing suppression imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control. Alessandra and her native city are caught between the Medici state, with its love of luxury, learning, and dazzling art, and the hellfire preaching and increasing violence of Savonarola's reactionary followers. Played out against this turbulent backdrop, Alessandra's married life is a misery, except for the surprising freedom it allows her to pursue her powerful attraction to the young painter and his art.

Comments: I was not sure what to expect when I began reading The Birth of Venus. My interest in reading came and went, and during one of the moments of interest, I signed up to be a part of a bookring. Right before I picked up the book, I wondered if perhaps I was having one of my lack of interest moments but the pressure of getting the book back in the mail and onto the next reader spurred me on.

It did not take long for me to be swept away in Alessandra’s memories of life during the late 15th century. I was taken back into history during a time of great art and beauty as well as religious turmoil and persecution. Although not a connoisseur of that time in history, my curiosity has grown and I will no doubt eventually find my way to other books set in that time period.

The book was much more than I expected. A serial killer is on the lose in Florence, oppression in the name of God threatens the city, family in turmoil, spiritual questioning and growth, and forbidden love fill the pages of The Birth of Venus.

Sarah Dunant crafted a beautiful story that stirred the heart as well as the mind. Alessandra is such a strong character, both in will and heart. She was compassionate and creative. It was impossible not to be drawn to her, to share in her struggles and triumphs.

Favorite Part: The reunion between the painter and Alessandra was perhaps my favorite scene in the book. The chemistry between the two characters leapt off the pages. The character of Alessandra’s husband pleasantly surprised me. From the description of their marriage in the summaries of the book that I read, I was sure he would be despicable. However, I had a lot of respect for him and felt he was a good man overall. Erila was another favorite character of mine. She was full of spirit and a loyal friend to Alessandra despite her station in life.

Miscellaneous: This book was part of a bookring through BookCrossing. It was sent to me from Roscoe, Minnesota.

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