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Sarah Dunant's gorgeous and mesmerizing novel, Birth of Venus, draws readers into a turbulent 15th-century Florence, a time when the lavish city, steeped in years of Medici family luxury, is suddenly besieged by plague, threat of invasion, and the righteous wrath of a fundamentalist monk. Dunant masterfully blends fact and fiction, seamlessly interweaving Florentine history with the coming-of-age story of a spirited 14-year-old girl. As Florence struggles in Savonarola's grip, a serial killer stalks the streets, the French invaders creep closer, and young Alessandra Cecchi must surrender her "childish" dreams and navigate her way into womanhood. Readers are quickly seduced by the simplicity of her unconventional passions that are more artistic than domestic:

Dancing is one of the many things I should be good at that I am not. Unlike my sister. Plautilla can move across the floor like water and sing a stave of music like a song bird, while I, who can translate both Latin and Greek faster than she or my brothers can read it, have club feet on the dance floor and a voice like a crow. Though I swear if I were to paint the scale I could do it in a flash: shining gold leaf for the top notes falling through ochres and reds into hot purple and deepest blue.

Alessandra's story, though central, is only one part of this multi-faceted and complex historical novel. Dunant paints a fascinating array of women onto her dark canvas, each representing the various fates of early Renaissance women: Alessandra's lovely (if simple) sister Plautilla is interested only in marrying rich and presiding over a household; the brave Erila, Alessandra's North African servant (and willing accomplice) has such a frank understanding of the limitations of her sex that she often escapes them; and Signora Cecchi, Alessandra's beautiful but weary mother tries to encourage yet temper the passions of her wayward daughter.

A luminous and lush novel, The Birth of Venus, at its heart, is a mysterious and sensual story with razor-sharp teeth. Like Alessandra, Dunant has a painter's eye--her writing is rich and evocative, luxuriating in colors and textures of the city, the people, and the art of 15th-century Florence. Reminiscent of Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring, but with sensual splashes of color and the occasional thrill of fear, Dunant's novel is both exciting and enchanting. --Daphne Durham -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine andere Ausgabe: Gebundene Ausgabe .


“Simply amazing, so brilliantly written...almost intolerably exciting at times, and at others, equally poignant.”
–Antonia Fraser

“A beautiful serpent of a novel, seductive and dangerous...full of wise guile, the most brilliant novel yet from a writer of powerful historical imagination and wicked literary gifts. Dunant’s snaky tale of art, sex and Florentine hysteria consumes utterly–but the experience is all pleasure.”
–Simon Schama

“Sarah Dunant has given us a story of sacrifice and betrayal, set during Florence’s captivity under the fanatic Savonarola. She writes like a painter, and thinks like a philosopher: juxtapositioning the humane against the animal, hope against fanaticism, creativity against destruction. The Birth of Venus is a tour de force.”
–Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

“Dunant has created a vivid and compellingly believable picture of Renaissance Florence: the squalor and brutality; the confidence and vitality; the political machinations. Her research has obviously been meticulous....A magnificent novel.”
–The Telegraph (London)

“It’s to Dunant’s credit that the vast quantities of historical information in this book are deployed so naturally and lightly....On the simplest level, this is an erotic and gripping thriller, but its intellectual excitement also comes from the way Dunant makes the art and philosophy of the period look new and dangerous again....Theology has rarely looked so sexy.”
–The Independent (London)

“No one should visit Tuscany this summer without this book. It is richly textured and driven by a thrillerish fever.”
–The Times (London)

“[Dunant’s] control, pace, and instinct are well-nigh impeccable.”
–The Financial Times

From the Hardcover edition.

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How real is the "liberating" message of "The Birth of Venus? 15. September 2004
Von David Kusumoto - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Sarah Dunant's "The Birth of Venus" feels similar to Tracy Chevalier's "Girl With a Pearl Earring" and Susan Vreeland's "Girl in the Hyacinth Blue." All three are works of historical fiction that have the ability to convince, albeit fleetingly, that they must be true.

However, "The Birth of Venus" isn't based on the Botticelli masterpiece that still resides in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It's based on the metaphorical "birth" -- and transformation -- of a girl-turned-woman whose single-mindedness is constantly thwarted by actions which force her to conform to 15th century Florentine society.

I'm not big on novels associated with the feminist school of thought that suggests forbidden romance, in all of its forms, brings liberation. Yet I was blindsided by Dunant's "The Birth of Venus" - especially its socko-ending - coming from an author better known for her crime novels and TV appearances in the United Kingdom.

Dunant's accomplishment: She establishes familiar plot threads about her protagonist, Alessandra. Hers is a page-turning, rebellious story. You start to feel smug because you think you've figured out how everything's going to end. But just when you think you're heading toward a familiar train wreck, Dunant puts you through many unpredictable (but mostly plausible) 90-degree plot turns that are wonderfully intriguing.

"The Birth of Venus" may not be high literature, but it's Dunant's best work to date. Her love for her adopted city of Florence is obvious. She goes out of her way to spin a fictional tale that's rooted in well-researched, historical reality. The "superstars" of the Renaissance make their appearances, but never in a jarring, manipulative or name-dropping way. They're part of the landscape. And if you know the geography of Old Florence, you also know that even today, it's small enough that you can't help running into these guys.

So what keeps this book from perfection? In my view, just two things:

First, modern slang occasionally surfaces that feels incongruent to 21st century readers who've been drawn into a setting that's more than 500 years old. Yeah, I know we're reading a "fictional translation" of Italian narration to English, but it's still a little jarring to read present-day colloquialisms sprinkled throughout a novel that's mostly placid in tone. Contrast this with erotic passages which for the most part, are devoid of crudeness (though at times described a little too self-consciously).

Second, about those erotic passages. There aren't many. They're executed, for the most part, with great sensitivity. I hate sex described in clinical terms. But a couple of times Dunant comes too close to projecting thoughts into Alessandra's narration that feel pretentious, a little too lyrical or metaphorical, even from the voice of an adult who's "looking backward." Do women really string metaphors about sex together, as you read here, even in their most reflective and introspective moments? As a result, what's supposed to "feel" like sexual "liberation" rings a little false. And I still don't get the stuff involving the tattoos (you'll know what I mean when you get to it).

Suspending disbelief is obviously required when great figures creep into a novel. "The Birth of Venus" weaves its "tale" cleverly, but I wish Dunant's Alessandra had gone no further when she describes the return, years later, of the man who remains an important figure in her life.

She beautifully says, "We had always been bound to each other through the power of longing, even when we understood nothing of desire."

I wished Dunant had stopped there. Instead, she plows ahead with the inevitable "scene" that would've been better suggested than described in a way that feels a little forced, posed and "artsy." I became aware of Dunant's writing. And this isn't supposed to happen. A great story is supposed to make you less conscious of great prose.

I'm still baffled about the mysterious man who's never identified by name. We're given a few clues, but he remains a cryptic figure, a brooding and tortured artist who returns years later so worldly and wise. He reads like every woman's fantasy, a Renaissance romantic too good to be true.

In the end, these may be small quibbles.

It may not be necessary to know the "Who's Who" of the Renaissance, e.g., Savonarola, Medici, the whole lot of 'em, and it may not be necessary to walk the streets of present-day Florence to "get" what's in "The Birth of Venus." But they do enhance the enjoyment of a story that's set in one of the world's most romantic cities. I hope readers less familiar with Florentine art and history get the same wallop I did after finishing it.

A helpful tip: remember this book is being told in the first person AND in the past tense. This way, when you reach the final 30 pages of Alessandra's story, you'll realize you're being set up for a twist.

To my relief, it's unpredictable and immensely satisfying. Without giving it away, "The Birth of Venus" closes unconventionally yet beautifully; optimistically yet realistically; quietly yet without being thrown into the throes of depression.

I still prefer non-fiction over fiction. But as I once wrote about another historical novel I equally enjoyed, if more books were written like Dunant's "The Birth of Venus," I'd stop going to the movies.
55 von 59 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Intricate Portrayal of Florence in Savonarola's Time 23. August 2004
Von Diana Faillace Von Behren - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
Alessandra tells her story of Florence during the tight reign of the monk Savonarola, in the form of a memoir, found after her death by fellow sisters in a provincial convent. Living in an age where classic thought and sensibilities are revisited and possessing an acute mind and an acrid tongue, she must resign herself to a more conventional role as a woman of the Renaissance, bound by duty to marry and bear children rather than be the philosopher painter she wishes to be. From the moment she encounters the painter from the North that her father has commissioned to paint the family chapel, she is relentless in seeking him out. While her first desire is to learn the secrets of color and brushwork, she finds herself attracted to the painter in ways she had not expected, and finds herself frustrated in more ways than she bargained when she must follow her appointed path as a Florentine woman.

The plot itself follows a rather straightforward course steered by somewhat predictable but well-crafted characters. Blended expertly with historical details of the age: the reign of the Medici family, the invasion of Florence by France, the paranoia of the city while under the helm of the monk, and the dropping of famous names like Botticelli, Michelangelo, Fra Angelico and Da Vinci, the author presents us with a fictitious view of what life could have been like back in the early 1500s. Alessandra's mindset is indeed, that of a 20th woman, a bit cynical and slightly world-weary for one of such tender years, but this adds to her appeal to the author's intended audience. Overall, the storyline compels one to read on and contains enough hints and little mysteries to keep even the most well-read reader turning the pages.

However, what fails miserably is the author's lack of solving any of the mysteries that she so tantalizingly provides for us. Alessandra fixates on the form of the snake tattooed on the man in the square, so much so that she has one tattooed on her own body---but the reason for her action is muddled and I for one do not understand the actual significance---an act of defiance? Empathy with Eve and her sin? Ironically, the significance of one of the most compelling symbols in the book remains coiled but never unfurled. Similarly, the author hints at the great artist that Alessandra loves and gives us enough clues to make some sort of guess to his identity, but then never actually tells us who he is or if he even existed. We know he is Flemish from the descriptions of the North Sea and the low country. We know he studied anatomy when it was forbidden with the likes of Michelangelo at Santo Spirito. We know that after the fall of Savonarola, he goes off to Rome to escape further persecution. He returns much later, worldly his sexual and artistic techniques honed like a razor, but again, we do not know his identity. Personally, as I read, I assumed he was a creation, but enough of my fellow reviewers have voiced that he was a real historical figure for me to investigate. Lastly, the title, calling to mind Botticelli's masterpiece, has little or nothing to do with the plot. As this book was published in the same time period when books like Vreeland's Girl in Hyacinth Blue and Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring have great popularity, one cannot help but think that the title suggests another imaginative story behind a great work of art. The Birth of Venus, however, is the story of a woman and her duty rather than her act as muse for a great painting or sculpture.

Bottom line: if you are looking for a Girl With a Pearl Earring type confection, you will not find it here. However, if a story told from a woman's perspective, albeit imagined, piques your interest especially told in the colorful velvet world of art and enlightenment of the Renaissance (even in the shadow of Savonarola) you will enjoy undertaking this short journey of duty, love and art.
45 von 49 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Beautifully crafted plot but not much to think about 23. September 2004
Von FMerino - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
I'm a busy person so I'm not the type to read a book without being able to put it down, but this one literally had me calling in sick to work to finish. The plot moves fluidly and Dunant has clearly perfected the art of plot twists, but while they keep the reader engaged, most of the characters are (very) sadly two-dimensional and undeveloped.

Alessandra is the youngest of four children in a wealthy family in 15th century Florence, Italy, and while precocious and wildly adventurous, she also has a keen eye for art and a mind spinning with politics and philosophy. When her father brings home an artist to paint the family's chapel, Alessandra sees an opportunity to learn under a real painter in an unofficial apprenticeship, only to find out that the painter, while handsome and consumed with a fear of Alessandra that only seems to draw her to him, harbors a dark secret.

Surprisingly, despite the fact that the novel is almost completely centered around Alessandra and the painter, very little time is spent developing their relationship or their characters, particularly the painter. They have a couple of scattered trysts, in which their attraction is conveyed in some manner or another. But they never fully explore one another. Alessandra never really grows up and learns anything, and while clearly meant to be a feministic thrust in a time of subordinance for women (loosely, I believe, based on Laura Cereta), she had absolutely no confidence in her own principles. She demanded equal treatment as an intellect, but her philosophical spoutings were less about philosophy and more about showing everyone that she knew philosophy, and when she wasn't desperately trying to prove herself, she spent the rest of the time obsessing over how she looked.

As for the painter, his character is wonderfully complex, but Dunant never fully explores him. When he has a nervous breakdown and Alessandra comes to comfort him, we anticipate a new step in their relationship, an evolution of their characters. But then Alessandra starts doing her stupid "philosophical" spouting again!

To be fair, there were very touching moments that literally left me breathless, and a few of the characters were more developed than Alessandra. So on the whole, I think that if Dunant had simply spent more time developing the characters, the book would have gone down in history as a literary masterpiece. But as it stands, while it's highly entertaining and a great vacation read, it is not a literary novel and does not do much in the way of making you think.
23 von 24 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Good and Yet Cliched Storytelling (2 1\2 Stars) 23. Oktober 2005
Von Julia Rose - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Taschenbuch
I will admit that I am a historical fiction snob. The story has to be original, and yet captivating, with interesting characters while staying true to the time period.

I will give Sarah Dunant that her writing is very well done. She has vivid descriptions of 15th Century Florence and the lives of her characters. I also enjoyed her observations on how women were viewed at the time, while learning a bit more about the time period than I had originally.

What bothered me about this story was that at times, the characters and the dialogue seemed forced. They were one-dimensional and occasionally cliched--the brainy girl who wants to "defy the times", the vain sister, the helpful mother, etc.

Not to mention, I don't think twenty-first century dialogue such as "whoa" and "yeah" were used at that time.

I also don't mind sex scenes in books. However, you can use a Margaret Atwood technique of saying the least while actually saying the most, or the Anais Nin style of sounding artful.

Sarah Dunant is a bit of an Anais Nin hopeful. She tries to make the scenes sound lyrical, but really just trite, over-the-top, and as if they should be in a Harlequin Romance novel. As a previous reviewer stated, she dragged these scenes on until they became too much.

I know that this book was very well received and there is some merit within the pages. However, this is a shell of a book. The ingredients are almost there but just miss the target.

If you want some light reading about Florence, then this book is for you. However, if you are easily offended by graphic violence or sex scenes, or if you want some more in-depth reading about Florence, stay far away!

And, if you are dissapointed in this, read any one of Tracy Chevallier's books!
23 von 25 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
The Birth of Venus : A Novel 15. März 2004
Von Caroline Grace - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
I wish I could have given this one a 4.5. It was better than a 4 but not quite worthy of a 5. 5s are saved for the classics.
Anyway, this is one of the best books I've ever read. It had more twists and turns than a maze!! Just when you thought her (Alessandra Cecchi) life couldn't get any weirder, it does.
It's set in Florence in 1492. Alessandra is nearly 15 when her father brings home a painter. Since she herself is an artist, she wants to meet him. But unfortunately, their relationship is severed when the French invade Florence. You see, she told her mother that if the French did invade, she'd marry to avoid being put in a convent. She decides to marry 50 something Cristoforo Langella and soon discovers that neither Cristoforo nor the painter are who they appear to be...
It has sex, murder, suspense, adultery, sodomy. What more could a person ask for??
It's highly recommended if you're a fan of fiction novels.
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