In his debut novel, Nobel-winning playwright Fo draws a portrait of Lucrezia Borgia, she of infamy.
Was Lucrezia "a monster, a poisoner, and a prostitute?" Or "a beauty [who] emanates...generosity, enthusiasm, passion, and willingness to make sacrifices for those she loves?" Lucrezia enthralls Fo, and he signals his enthusiasm with arch, knowing humor directed at the reader. Fo’s not alone, either; he discovers that "de Bayard, the legendary knight," said Lucrezia "was lovely and courteous and kind to one and all." Lucrezia had the good fortune, and misfortune, to be born to Rodrigo Borgia, House of Aragon. Young Rodrigo traveled to Rome, soldiered a bit, became a cardinal, met Vannozza Cattanei, and started a family in a time when "it was quite accepted for a man of the church to carry on openly reckless relations with women." Next Rodrigo "decided…to have himself elected to the highest ecclesiastic office," becoming Pope Alexander VI. With that, daughter Lucrezia becomes a pawn in a game played out through Italian city-states all the way to France. Best enjoyed by those familiar with the Italian Renaissance, Fo’s novel features Lucrezia as the character best drawn, captured in the mirror of her contemporaries’ perceptions. More than one descends into rapture over "the beauty that Lucrezia carries within her." It’s her brother Cesare who builds the Borgian reputation for treachery, "great cunning…a true condottiere," tainting Lucrezia in the process. In this deft translation, there’s a historical plethora of saints and sinners, arranged marriages and forced annulments, wars and murders, names like Ludovico the Moor and Giuliano della Rovere, and even bit parts for Copernicus and Machiavelli.
Entertaining historical revisionism, with Fo's Lucrezia more femme fatale than incestuous poisoner.