Books set in Europe, Coming of age, Dunant-Sarah, Family dynamics, Fiction, Finding Your Self, Historical Fiction, Romantic Fiction

#94 The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant


This is a great novel. I know most of the time I don’t come right out and exclaim about the greatness of a book, but I really liked this one. Previously I read another Dunant book which was set inside a convent and I wasn’t thrilled with that fact. In the beginning of this book, the scenes are set in a convent, but the reader soon learns the story as to why the scenes are set in a convent in the beginning. The tale ends up stranger and more wonderful than the reader could imagine in the beginning.

This book is set in Florence in a time of upheaval. The Medici reign is coming to an end and times are changing. Italy is moving away from wealthy families as the main ruling class and is moving towards the Catholic Church as the main ruling body. The city has been thrown into upheaval by a man named Savonarola a friar who is teaching a way of life much different than the Florentines are used to. This is also an age of great artistic advancements. Some of the greatest artists in all of history were practicing during this time. The book is named after a Botticelli painting depicting the goddess Venus and her birth according to mythology.

Onto the story, in the beginning of the novel sister Lucrezia has died. She was a strange nun, but her time has finally come. The mother superior has received some strange orders concerning her death. Sister Lucrezia knew she was going to die and asked that her body be buried as it was without being washed or dressed any differently. Fearing the plague, the mother superior disregards her wishes and soon finds that sister Lucrezia must have led a very interesting life. We soon follow the young Allessandra, Allessandra being the name previously used by sister Lucrezia.

Allessandra is a young woman of fourteen living with her family. Her brothers spend the nights terrorizing the town with their lusty antics and her older sister is about to be married. Allessandra is much smarter than any of her siblings. She can speak and write several languages and she also draws. Oh the shame, a girl drawing, whatever shall we do? At the time, women artists weren’t unheard of, but they were definitely uncommon and frowned upon. The very fact that a woman was in any way talented in anything other than domestic skills would make her a poor marriage candidate. As a result encouraging young women to pursue their talents was not a standard practice.

Allessandra is somewhat petted in this respect. Her parents allow her to draw in the home, but they ask that she really not tell anyone else. Soon, Allessandra’s father hires an artist to paint the family chapel. In this day, it was all the rage to have your own chapel and have it painted custom, and I’m not talking about blue trim and white walls, I am talking beautiful and priceless murals. Allessandra is immediately drawn to the artist. What will become of that situation?

Soon it is rumored that the French are going to invade the city. This fact of course worries everyone. What will the French do? Will there be brutality? Will there be plunder? Will they kidnap young women? Fear soon rules what Allessandra decides for herself. At first her parents are all for sending her to a convent to wait out the French occupation, but Allessandra doesn’t like that idea. She decides that she must marry. Marriage was an arranged thing back in the day and as long as there were rich men around young women could be married. It didn’t matter how old the men were, it just mattered that they were men and had money. I think that kind of still applies today, at least to some people. Anyways, a husband is found for Allessandra, but the entire situation isn’t what Allessandra has expected.

Her life soon takes a turn for the dizzying strange as Allessandra learns to cope with life. You will enjoy every minute of it. If you want to know what happens to Allessandra and all the things that happen on her journey pick up the book.

What I liked: I like books about artists and artwork. I am an artist, so ergo; I like books about artists and artwork. This book fit that bill. It wasn’t necessarily about a famous artist, but it was great. I studied ancient Roman art for a time and found it fascinating. I love that Dunant was able to incorporate the Medicis as well as famous artists in this tale. I also love that Dunant could talk somewhat professionally about art techniques involved during the time.

I liked Allessandra, that girl has some spunk and grit. She just goes against convention while at the same time maintaining it which is awesome.

The descriptions are beautiful; I really have to have it to Dunant. After reading two of her books, I believe she does quite a bit of research when preparing to write a novel and it pays off.

I also liked the historical significance of the book. This was a time of change for the world and Dunant was really able to bring it into account here. The talk of traditions was great too. I felt she really captured the atmosphere of Florence during the reign of Savonarola.

What I didn’t like: The book was done well and I really don’t have anything bad to say about it. I do on the other hand; have something bad to say about the era. Arranged marriage was an awful thing, well is an awful thing, there are still areas of the world where it’s practiced. Why would you want to spend your life with someone who someone else picked out for you? It doesn’t sound very appealing to me, those poor, poor, women who have suffered from this.

Overall, this was a great book. To me, it was a page turner and I enjoyed that after some of the more boring books I have read recently. My suggestion is read it.

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