The heir to a gondola empire rejects his birthright but comes full circle in this fascinating glimpse into late-Renaissance Venice by art historian–turned-novelist Morelli (Made in Italy, 2008).
Twenty-two-year-old Luca Vianello believes his left-handedness to be his greatest curse, until the death of his beloved mother right after she gives birth. Luca’s rage at seeing his father—whom he blames for his mother’s frequent, ill-fated pregnancies—at work so soon after her death results in a tragic fire at his family’s squero (a gondola boatyard). Fleeing his home, his betrothed and his trade, Luca ends up on the streets of Venice. Unable to fully escape his heritage, he finds a position as a gondolier. Eventually, in a life-altering move, he becomes private boatman to Trevisan, a successful artist. Luca is introduced—first in a painting, then in the flesh—to the beautiful Giuliana Zanchi, with whom he becomes infatuated. She hires him to perform side jobs for her, and the two eventually become friends. While restoring an old gondola of Trevisan’s that was made in his family’s squero, Luca, and eventually Trevisan, recognizes that he is in his own right a craftsman, a true artist. But when Luca becomes aware that Giuliana is in danger, he risks everything to save her. Vulnerable, honorable Luca will tug at readers’ heartstrings, while author Morelli’s evocative descriptions of late-16th-century Venice and its inhabitants alternately captivate and nauseate, with accurate depictions of personal and public hygiene. The paucity of dialogue does little to slow the novel’s pace, and long paragraphs of Luca’s self-reflection can be surprisingly interesting. Under Morelli’s deft pen, the gondola- and oar-making trades are elevated to the historic art forms they really were.
Adeptly explores the consequences of pride and respect for women against the backdrop of Renaissance Italy.