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Italy Book Tours invited me to read and review The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli. And I finished the book just in time for my current visit to the floating city (I’m posting this review today from Venice).
The setting of the book, The Gondola Maker, is Venice in 1581. Although this is a work of fiction, the characters and the city of Venice, especially of that time, feel very real. The author goes into great detail on the art and craft of gondola making and through the characters’ work, shows all that’s involved in creating one of the most famous boats in the world. The gondola is indisputably a symbol of Venice. Along with the gondola, there is usually a gondolier somewhere in the image, the two are virtually inseparable. One doesn’t normally think about all the people involved in creating a gondola. In this story, though, the point of view is from that of a gondola maker – even though at one point he becomes a gondolier – and the reader gets what might be an entirely different perspective of Venice, life in the floating city at that time, gondolas, and even gondoliers.
In addition to the details about gondola making, another of the things I loved about this book is how the story takes us through life in Venice at that time. In the details and images the author creates, we get a glimpse of how all types of people might have lived then, and how life was different for each class of society. We see the handyman getting his bread and slab of cheese after a long day’s work and the “Councillor” giving lavish private parties with banquet tables filled with all types of game and fish. Even the shoes a poor “boatman” would where gives away his status in society. We also see how rules/laws were carried out and enforced among the classes. I felt as though I could see Venice and all its layers of society in this book. There is a character from practically every part of life in Venice during the 1500s – gondola makers, oar makers, artists, apprentices, a Jewish citizen, a member of the Council of Ten, courtesans, everyday workers – dressmakers, bakers, etc. – and aristocrats.
Luca, the story’s “hero” is a bit of a bumbling youth trying to make a life for himself despite what destiny might have in store for him, but he is quite likeable. I found myself rooting for him even though, as the reader, I could foresee that many of his escapades, plans and “deceptions” would only get him into trouble. Luca’s story is a fun and easy read even if you care nothing about Venice (is that even possible?). But if you love Venice, as I do, this book is even better. I felt as if I were transported to Venice in the 1500s with Luca as my guide, walking the streets, gliding along the canals, watching the workmen and gondoliers in their shops, and peeking into the palaces of artists and aristocrats.
Overview of the Story:
The book begins with a gondola burning between the two infamous columns “of justice” in the Piazzetta (the “little” piazza right off of Piazza San Marco and also where they held many executions). The gondola burning is part of a gondolier’s punishment for throwing a rock at another gondolier while he was transporting the French ambassador around Venice. Luca Vianello, our protagonist, watches as the boat his father, who is known as “our Republic’s most renowned gondola maker” crafted is reduced to ashes.
Luca is the oldest Vianello son and, therefore, destined to take over the family’s gondola-making business. Luca’s life has already been planned for him. He will be a gondola maker. His father has found him a bride, one whose family’s business will also make a good marriage to the Vianello’s gondola-making business.
From the very beginning, the reader gets the sense that Luca isn’t too happy with this life that has already been planned for him. And then not one, but two, devasting tragedies strike the Vianello family. One of the tragedies Luca blames on his father and the other is a result of Luca’s actions. Luca sends himself into exile from his family, but he cannot leave his home city of Venice. So he stays and sets out to create a life for himself under the alias of Luca Fabris. Starting homeless and in what would amount to a soup kitchen nowadays, Luca first finds work as a “handyman/gofer” for the manager of a traghetto stand, and then a well-known Venetian painter hires Luca as his personal gondolier.
At the painter’s home Luca falls for a woman, the subject of one of his boss’s paintings, who is of a totally different class than that of a gondolier. He is also equally fascinated with a broken and abandoned gondola in the painter’s boat slip. Luca identifies the gondola as one his grandfather made. The story follows Luca through Venice while he attempts to get close to the girl and restore his grandfather’s gondola all the while continuing to hide his true name and family origins. Will he remain a lowly boatman? Will he get the girl? How will he continue to hide his identity? There are a few unforeseen twists to the plot, and although the ending is “happy,” its not as predictable as one might expect.
Overall, it was an enjoyable read that I would recommend and perfect one for anyone about to visit Venice.
Enter to win a copy of The Gondola Maker here: a Rafflecopter giveaway
A little about the author:
Laura Morelli earned a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and an Andrew W. Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She has taught college art history in the U.S. and at Trinity College in Rome. She is the creator of the authentic guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, and Made in the Southwest, published by Rizzoli. Laura is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler and other national magazines and newspapers. A native of coastal Georgia, she is married and is busy raising four children. The Gondola Maker is her first work of fiction.
If you’d like to read others’ reveiws of The Gondola Maker, here is the Italy Book Tour schedule:
Nov 3 – Studentessa Matta – review / giveaway
Nov 3 – Il Mio Tesoro – review / giveaway
Nov 4 – Packabook – review
Nov 4 – Venice from Beyond the Bridge – review
Nov 5 – Monica Cesarato – review / giveaway
Nov 5 – Seductive Venice – review
Nov 6 – Food Lover’s Odyssey – review / giveaway
Nov 7 – The Venice Experience – review / interview
Nov 8 – Hello World – review
Nov 9 – Orvieto or Bust – review
Nov 9 – Capturing Venice – review
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