The splendor and tumult of the Italian Renaissance live con brio in this page-turning tale of a remarkable young Jewish woman whose love for a Christian nobleman divides her heart and soul. Parks, a professor emerita in the NYU dramatic-writing program, draws upon a brief reference to this young woman in a period history and develops it into a story as rich as Raphael's tapestries—which her Jewish heroine, Grazia, must guard when the Germans sack Rome in 1527. Grazia, her young son Danilo, and her employer Madonna Isabella, the Marchesana of Mantova, are eventually allowed to leave Rome—but at a high price. Grazia's life seems, in fact, to have been shaped by a series of upheavals and flights. Remembering them now, she is taken back to her first flight, in childhood, from Mantova, during a pogrom, when her family takes shelter with her wealthy grandparents, the Rossis. The Rossis are bankers and humanist scholars, and Grazia gains a remarkable education. But while her scholarly talents bring her fame—she publishes a book—and work (she eventually becomes the secretary of the Marchesa, a woman close to the center of power in Renaissance Rome), her life, shaped by war, plague, and persecution, is changed forever by her encounter with the dashing Lord Pirro when he arrives, still a student, at the Rossi bank in search of a loan. The two become lovers but are parted when the reluctant Pirro is compelled to marry his family's choice. These meetings and partings are repeated though the pair's event-filled lives as Pirro becomes a soldier and Grazia marries Judah, who becomes a physician to the Pope. At one unexpected reunion with Pirro, Danilo is conceived. But history is indifferent even to the most intense of lovers, especially in troubled times, and the estimable Grazia will meet an unhappy fate. A genuine Renaissance woman memorably struts her stuff in a first novel that consummately mixes fact and fancy. Historical fiction at its best.
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