Author: Sarah Dunant
Published: Random House Trade, 2003
Where I Got It: The library
Why I Read It: It was recommended to me on Yahoo! Answers, of all places
Wow. I picked The Birth of Venus up from the library on my way home from school one day and read it from cover to cover in four hours (completely ignoring my homework). I can only think of one or two other times that a book has captivated me that easily.
The book follows Alessandra Cecchi, a teenager in Italy during the late 15th century, the peak of the Renaissance. Her father brings home a young painter from northern Europe who is commissioned to paint and decorate the family's chapel. Alessandra, who loves art herself, is entranced by this mysterious painter (and I do mean mysterious, we never learn this guy's name!). Before anything else can happen, Alessandra's parents suddenly marry her off to a much older man, a man who hides a dark secret. In the mean time, Savonarola, a monk who destroyed what he believed to be immoral art, held book burnings (!), and ranted and raved about numerous other things, is raising hellfire in Florence. The city faces destruction and waves of change. Along the way, Alessandra grows up, deals with life, and still finds herself drawn to this painter.
One reason I enjoyed this book as much as I did is the fact that Alessandra is so likable. She has the three S's: she's sarcastic, smart and strong (well, as strong as a woman in the Middle Ages could be).
Several things still puzzled me. The first was the language. The slang and curse words seem very 21st century....words that I'm not sure were casually thrown around in the 1400s. The second is the identity of the painter. Like I said before, we never find out his name (in effect, he's only called 'The Painter'), but just who is he? We are led to believe that he became someone famous, a person we ourselves would have known and learned about in school. If anyone has any idea, please throw out your guesses, it's killing me!
All in all, the story, setting, characters, and events are brilliant. There is humor, drama, sadness and love. I will say that there was a semi-graphic sex scene that was entirely too awkward, especially when you find out later details. Luckily, the good far outweighs the bad!
I don't throw 5 stars around easily, but this deserves it. In fact, 5+ stars.