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The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant: This is not a book I would have ordinarily picked up. I’d heard it was kind of like Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, but it’s really not at all. Yes, it’s about a woman and a painter in Europe, but that’s about where the similarity ends. In truth, I have no idea where the title comes from, except that it’s a famous painting from the same era. Anyway, this is the life story of Alessandra Cecchi, an unusually well-educated Florentine woman in the Renaissance. Her whole life she has dreamed of becoming an artist, but such things are not considered proper for a woman. Though she is irresistibly drawn to a painter hired to paint her family’s chapel, her parents marry her off to a much older man. At the same time, the brutally fundamentalist monk Savonarola has come to power, bringing terror to the city under the guise of piety.

This is an extremely passionate and graphic book. Everything is described in vivid detail, from the violence to the sex to the art. If you can handle the mental images, this is a marvelously written story. Alessandra is a believable and sympathetic narrator, progressive and intelligent without being anachronistic. The story is compelling, sometimes suspenseful, often thought-provoking. There were times when I had a lot of trouble putting it down. I will definitely be looking up Dunant’s other works.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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