Published: March 3, 2014
Published by: Laura Morelli
Trade paperback, 306 pages
I loved this historical fiction set in the romantic city of Venice of the late 1500’s, or as it is frequently referred to in the book, Our Most Serene City.
This is the story of 22-year-old Luca Vianello, told from his POV, heir to an important gondola-making family boatyard. I liked Luca immediately. In pursuit of work following family disaster, he hires on as a gondolier, delivering everything from wood, wine, art supplies and groceries, to documents and messages. He eventually becomes gondolier/chauffeur for an esteemed artist and that’s when things get interesting as he sees a painting of an unforgettable young woman.
The author’s background surfaces frequently in her descriptions of paintings – who else but an art historian uses terms like triptych? There are detailed descriptions of buildings of the day with their massive chimneys and facades of pink, coral and white stones laid in a zigzag fashion. It is written with the eye and language of an art historian.
I found the descriptions of gondolas and the crafting of them fascinating. Privately-owned gondolas are equivalent to cars of today, some ordinary, some beautifully crafted, like works of art, including ornate wood carvings and rich tapestry-upholstered seats and curtains. Think of an Italian Panda car versus a Lexus, Porsche or Tesla. Venetians were just as proud of their gondolas then as are North Americans of their cars now. The author's detailed research is reflected in the descriptions of the gondolas, as well as certain customs of the day. I didn’t know that public boat burning was considered an act of justice, a punishment for infringing the laws of the Venetian republic.
The author evokes 16th-century Venice for me in the sights, sounds and smells (good and bad) that she describes. I could see the gondolas bobbing up and down in the Grand Canal and the gondoliers using their secret language to manoeuvre their way through the waterways. Italian words and expressions add to the authenticity.
This easy-to-read historical fiction features romance, intrigue, family loyalty, pride and redemption set against the backdrop of Renaissance Italy. I highly recommend this book by a very talented writer.
Note: This book is rated C = clean read.
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And now for the interview...
Please help me welcome Laura Morelli as she tells us more about her book and herself.
LCR: Welcome to our blog, Laura! As you can see from my review, I loved your book, and I really liked Luca's character and qualities. Although he is fictional, is he based on someone you know?
LM: Luca, the son of one of the most renowned gondola makers in Venice, took shape in the back of my mind while I was doing research for another book, Made in Italy. I traveled from the Alps to the islands, interviewing contemporary torchbearers of Italy’s centuries-old traditions, everything from Venetian gondolas to limoncello, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Florentine leather, Sicilian pottery, and much more. The living artisans I interviewed told me how important it was to them to pass that torch to the next generation. I began to wonder what would happen if the successor were not able… or willing.
The social and familial bonds of medieval and Renaissance Europe were so tight that I thought it would be fascinating to explore the mind of someone who struggled to live within those constraints, and what would happen if he tried to escape them. My fascination with this idea led me to write Luca’s narrative in the first person, which was a leap of faith for me as a writer. Luca is not based on any one person I know, but in living vicariously through him, he is very “real” for me.
LCR: You must have spent a lot of time in Italy. Is Venice your favourite city?
LM: I lived in a small village near Monza for four years, and my first child was born there. I have been fortunate to be able to travel all over the country, but Venice holds a special place in my heart. If you described Venice to someone who had no prior knowledge of it, they might think you were making it up. It’s mind-boggling to think that the entire built environment of Venice--everything from the humblest coffee shop to the grandest church--stands atop thousands of wooden pilings driven into the mud centuries ago. The city has been described as “impossible,” and I think that’s a good way to capture its essence.
LCR: What is your favorite genre of book? Your favorite book?
LM: I read a variety of non-fiction and fiction, but I have always appreciated historical fiction. I love it when an author can bring the past to life through sights, smells, sounds, and sensations.
LCR: So do I, which is one of the reasons I loved your book. Is there a particular Italian food that you prefer?
LM: I am a risotto geek. Risotto is deceivingly simple—just rice, cheese, and a few more ingredients, right? But there are so many tricks and secrets to getting it right. When I lived in Italy I took every opportunity to learn from friends, family, neighbors, and complete strangers to hone my risotto-making skills. Now its our family’s tradition to make it on Christmas Eve, on special occasions, and on cold winter evenings.
LCR: What is your favorite flavor of gelato?
LM: It’s hard to beat chocolate, but I also love watermelon and pistachio!
LCR: Watermelon? Now that's a flavor you don't find in Canada. Must be very refreshing! Thanks for joining us today, Laura.
About Laura Morelli:Laura Morelli earned a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and an Andrew W. Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She has taught college art history in the U.S. and at Trinity College in Rome. She is the creator of the authentic guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, and Made in the Southwest, published by Rizzoli. Laura is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler and other national magazines and newspapers. A native of coastal Georgia, she is married and is busy raising four children. The Gondola Maker is her first work of fiction.
Connect with Laura here: www.lauramorelli.com
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