BookBrowse Reviews The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

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The Birth of Venus

by Sarah Dunant

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2004, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2004, 416 pages

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Historical Fiction Set in Florence

From the book jacket: 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.

Comment: This is an obvious fit for those who've enjoyed other historical novels with an artistic bent, such as those by Susan Vreeland and Tracy Chevalier, and will doubtless be a popular book club choice.  However, expect a little more harsh reality and a little less romance in Durant's book.  As the Washington Post writes 'Dunant has injected a kind of realpolitik into the genre, making it far more poignant and interesting' and Kirkus Reviews adds 'no real surprises in the romance department, but the depiction of Florence as Tehran under the Ayatollah is an eye-opener.'

Durant has published a number of previous novels, some set in Italy but this is her first foray into historical fiction.

This review is from the February 2, 2005 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



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