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by Marta Morazzoni

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-394-58088-5
Publisher: Knopf

 From Morazzoni (Girl in a Turban, 1988), a slim novella made up of two fictionalized bits of history intertwined like the ivy 'round the rose. In 1879, near the end of his life, the great English art critic John Ruskin takes a trip to Amiens--his last European journey before death--where he visits (as always) the great cathedral, meanders about the town, meditates about art, time, flesh, and mutability, and--the one unusual thing he does--retraces the steps of a long-ago walk poignantly (if shakily) remembered from childhood. Morazzoni's second narrative, meanwhile, woven round the first, takes place a mere 800 years earlier as a good woman and gifted seamstress of Amiens leaves husband and child behind to join three hundred other seamstresses gathering in a royal court far to the north--where under a queen's auspices the great project of creating the Bayeux tapestry is to be undertaken. While John Ruskin ponders the great cathedral, touches the hand of a beggar, admires a sculpture of the young Virgin, and returns briefly to his lost childhood, the woman from Amiens thinks about her distant husband and child, visits the seashore, and ponders the mysterious and ineluctable task of how--in this great tapestry portraying the Norman Conquest--to capture the passing shadows and moods of life itself in a work of art that will remain forever. A subtle, evanescent, often lovely poetic inventiveness that's learned and deft--but also inescapably tiny, spare, and slight.