Wednesday, January 30, 2013
REVIEW: The Eyes of Venice, by Alessandro Barbero
The Eyes of Venice is a very long, very detailed historical novel set in 16th century Venice and its environs, about the diverging fates of a husband and wife separated by chance. Michele is a master mason and just married to the lovely Bianca; the family was doing okay until Michele's father died while being pursued by the police. Michele, also pursued, escapes by jumping on board a ship and impulsively volunteering himself as a galleyman, a rower. Before long he's set sail for parts unknown, leaving his wife behind- his wife who has no idea where he is or if she'll ever see him again.
The narration then alternates between Michele and Bianca in long sections. Several chapters will focus on one, then the other, then back again. Michele adjusts to shipboard life, with all its privations and difficulties. Barbero's passages about life on ships, its rules and customs, were fascinating. He meets people from all over the Mediterranean, opening his mind and altering his perspectives. And he gets himself involved in a grisly plot to steal a great deal of money, which will put him in a great deal of danger. Meanwhile, Bianca is trying to keep herself employed and fed and avoid the abuses that await unattached women. After some false starts, she finds a good position as a maid to an influential and kind Venetian noblewoman who may even be able to reunite her with Michele.
I'm not going to lie to you. I did not read the whole book. I skipped three chapters towards the end that narrated some detailed Venetian politics not wholly germane to the central plot. This is a very long book with a great deal of historical detail concerning the social customs and politics of Venice, and students of Italian history will relish the depth Barbero brings. For me, the best parts of the book had to do with Michele's encounters with the non-Christian world and Bianca's chapters. Michele is a rather passive person- things happen to him but he takes little initiative.
I'd recommend the book to readers of the Sarah Dunant type of light, plot-driven historical fiction. I liked the book, and I learned some things, and I think it would be a great book for a vacation or a time when you can really carve out the space for it.
This is my second book for the 2013 Europa Challenge!
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.