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Category Archive for 'Italy'

Marian Evans, the author known as George Eliot, is sixty years old as this biographical novel opens in June, 1880, and she is on the train to Venice for her honeymoon with new husband, John Walter Cross, a handsome young forty-year-old. Hiding her face behind a white lace mantilla so that she will not be pestered by fans of her books begging for autographs, she believes that the mantilla, “though not completely hiding her face…distracted from it, from her large nose and broad jaw, and she welcomed this because she believed that she was homely.” She had lived happily with philosopher and critic George Henry Lewes from 1854 until his death in 1878, and though she called herself Mrs. Lewes, they had never married. Lewes, already married, had an “open marriage” in which his wife ultimately had four children by another man, all of whom Lewes supported, and he was legally unable to get a divorce. As the train bearing the newlyweds heads toward Venice and a new life, Evans has reason to be alarmed by her new husband’s behavior – “It was as if he were drifting away from her, going farther and farther into his own world, and she didn’t know why.” He’d been frantically making plans for the wedding and their house in London; he hadn’t been sleeping; and he’d hardly been eating. Though he’d been as attentive to her needs as always, he was now hyperactive, operating at a level of speed and intensity she had never seen before, constantly moving and unable to relax. Author Smith’s research makes much of this novel come alive, providing both realism and excitement to this biography as she recreates the life of this intelligent scholar/author and how she became a success as a novelist.

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Daniel Silva’s fourteenth novel featuring Gabriel Allon, an Israeli secret service agent who also works as a restorer of fine art, starts with the gruesome torture murder of a former diplomat to the Middle East, found hanging by his wrists from the chandelier of an estate on Italy’s Lake Como. The victim, suspected of being both a collector and an exporter of stolen paintings from Italy, is well known to General Cesare Ferrari, head of the Art Squad of Italy, and Ferrari knows whom to contact to investigate this case about stolen art, who buys it, and why. Gabriel Allon, who is currently in Venice restoring an altarpiece, made his reputation with the Israeli secret service when he was a young man, when he personally tracked down and executed six Black September terrorists who killed eleven Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972. Ferrari asks him to help find the murderer of Jack Bradshaw at an estate along Lake Como. Bradshaw is believed to have been a collector of stolen art masterpieces, and he may also have been an exporter of them. The condition of Bradshaw’s body, which bears the marks of extreme torture, lead Ferrari and Allon to speculate that the murderer may have succeeded in gaining whatever information he needs to retrieve and sell the paintings Bradshaw is believed to have in his possession. Allon must follow the money trail, and it points in the direction of the leader of a Middle Eastern country.

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Maurizio de Giovanni, whose Neapolitan noir novels have sold almost a million copies, may be the only author who has ever featured a murder committed with a “snow globe” containing a hula dancer playing a ukulele. Famous primarily for his series of seven noir mysteries set in Naples during the rule of Benito Mussolini and featuring Inspector Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi, de Giovanni has also developed a second series, this one set in contemporary Naples. Following The Crocodile, the most violent and horror-filled of all de Giovanni’s novels, The Bastards of Pizzofalcone, the second in this series, includes some of the author’s trademark elements of dark humor and irony, missing from The Crocodile. Returning to the character-based novels which made the Ricciardi series so popular, de Giovanni develops a large cast of characters, who may become “regulars” in future novels. These include four “damaged” police officers, the “bastards,” who have been assigned to work in Pizzofalcone, a steep, hilly area to the southwest of central Naples. All have had career problems and must now prove themselves in Pizzofalcone, where a widespread scandal involving police corruption and connections to the Neapolitan Mafia, known as the Camorra, has led to massive dismissals. These new officers will have only a short period of time to prove their worth or they will be dismissed and the Pizzofalcone precinct closed. As they begin to investigate a murder and the possible detention of a young woman against her will, they all begin to learn more about themselves.

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Brunelleschi’s Dome opens with a description of the city of Florence in 1418, when it is holding a competition for artists or architects to produce a model or design for the vaulting of the main dome of the large new cathedral being built there. Six weeks are allowed for the candidate to produce his sample work for the dome, which will complement the cathedral campanile on which the artist Giotto has worked for twenty years. Because of the proportions of the work already completed, the crowning dome will have to be the highest and widest dome ever built – higher and wider than the 143’ 6” diameter of the Pantheon built in Rome a thousand years earlier and never duplicated. The Gothic architecture popular in the rest of Europe, with its flying buttresses to draw the weight of large arches and domes away from the center of the cathedral, does not appeal to the Florentines, who want something different for their cathedral. The finalists in the competition are Filippo Brunelleschi, a goldsmith and clockmaker, and Lorenzo Ghiberti, a worker in bronze who has designed the doors of the Baptistery of Florence. Detailing the issues that Brunelleschi faced for twenty-five years as he designed and built the dome of the cathedral, Ross King makes the complex engineering and structural feats of building this dome understandable to the lay reader and makes Brunelleschi’s behavior human

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Following the crushing defeat of the Italian army in 1917 by the Germans during World War I, the Villa belonging to the Spada family in Refrontolo, just north of Venice, is requisitioned by the German army and stripped of all its valuables. Crude victorious soldiers, drunk on their power, delight in tormenting the owners, tearing up cupboards and smashing the contents and even riding horses inside the Villa until they are stopped by officers in charge. The safety of young females is constantly at risk if they are caught out alone. As one character says, “War and loot are the only faithful married couple.” Living at the Villa which the family has occupied for generations, are the speaker, Paolo, age seventeen, an orphan who has lost his parents and other immediate family in the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in 1914; his grandfather Guglielmo Spada; grandmother Nancy; unmarried aunt, Donna Maria, who acts as the house manager; Teresa, the imaginative cook; and Loretta, her daughter, in her early twenties. Living in a house nearby are the red-haired Giulia Candiani, who has returned to her place of birth because of an indiscretion, a twenty-five-year-old who has bewitched Paolo; and her tenant, Grandma Spada’s “third paramour,” Pagnini, who occupies a basement room there. Author Andrea Molesini, who has lived in this area of northern Italy for much of his life, has absorbed every aspect of its history and is uniquely qualified to describe the effects of the German, and later, the Austro-Hungarian occupation on the lives of the inhabitants, not just of the Villa but of the surrounding area, during the final months of World War I.

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