Pizzati (Venetian-English English-Venetian, 2007, etc.) offers a historical novel about the seventh-century birth of Venice, Italy.
Primo, 18, and Polo, 16, are brothers in a poor, rural farm family near the town of Opterg in the Byzantine Empire. Just before most of their clan are wiped out by invading Germanic Longobards, they’re told by their uncle, Licio, that they’re actually royalty, hidden away to keep them safe. The brothers are separated when they escape the aforementioned raid and end up adopted by families in small villages in part of the Byzantine Empire near the Adriatic Sea. Polo comes up with the idea of developing the villages adjoining the canals in the area that’s now Venice, hoping that the water will slow the Longobards. Polo also has the vision to see the value of increased trade between farmers and fishermen; the brothers reunite on one such trading mission. Polo goes on to become the first doge (leader) of Venice, with Primo as his primary shipbuilder; together they open trade routes to Africa and Asia. The novel also tells the story of fierce Longobard warrior Adalulf, who turns his back on his people in order to be with his youngest son, Aldo, and escape the Longobards’ new ruler, Grimwald, who vows revenge against Adalulf for causing the deaths of his two older brothers years before. Venetian historian Pizzati has created a well-developed, multigenerational cast of characters to populate his novel, a good percentage of whom are based on real-life historical figures. Still, despite their number, it’s simple to keep track of the many players. There’s plenty of treachery amid the politics and the battles, and Europe evolves as it faces the threat of invading Arabs. Pizzati’s work feels much shorter than its 500-plus pages, as the narrative rolls smoothly along over a period of decades. Two maps will help readers follow the major characters through the lands located around the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and Black seas. Overall, Pizzati has crafted an incisive exploration of a lesser-known piece of history.
An enjoyable historical novel that reveals a different side of a well-known region.