Thursday 7 August 2014

Book Review: the Gondola Maker

What an excellent story! The author, with a Ph.D. in art history, has combined her knowledge, understanding, creativity and research skills, in an entertaining historical fiction.

Oarlock - handcarved
Imagine 16th-century road rage, where the rich, and the Roman Catholic church, controlled much that went on on the canals, and objects get thrown about. The punishments were severe: the gondola is burned.

This is a story about a gondola maker who wonders at his place in the world – where training was strictly by apprenticeship, and often inherited by familial lineage. This is an age where women did the cooking, shopping and cleaning, or prostituting, rather than finding their own place in the world. Neither the men nor the women truly had many choices. Roles were strictly assigned and adhered to in this society. How far we have come!

Our hero, 22-year-old stud muffin Luca Vianello, is supposed to inherit his family business in Venice in 1581. (Sorry, this middle-aged retiree pictures stud muffin!) The setting is amazing, with many rich, descriptive passages and a wonderful smattering of Italian vocabulary to spice up the narrative. It is obvious that Morelli has lived in many places around the world. It is a rich, sensual cornucopia of sights, sounds, smells and flavours in this novel. For a first-time novelist, Laura captured it all!
Venice gondola
"It begins to rain. Cold, grape-sized pellets fall from the sky, making a haphazard cacophony of concentric rings in the canals."

Morelli's education, travels, and teachings, as well as her non-fiction works happily prepared her to write a novel. I was very much entertained on a wet, humid, thundery day, with each page turn. She builds her story, weaving a tapestry of a different time and place. Her historical knowledge and research enlightened me. There were stiff fines for sumptuary laws: too much ostentation on a gondola was a bad thing.

During the 1500’s, the gondola became increasing decorated with fancy ironwork, bright carpets and rich colours. An increasing number boasted a felze; a small cabin complete with louvered windows, allowing privacy for passengers, and protection from the elements. Sumptuary laws passed in 1562, however, decreed all gondolas to be black to prevent ostentatious displays of wealth.

Bless her heart, the author permitted me to post her photos. They really illustrate the setting of the book well. The intricate, hand-carved oarlock, a gondola in a boat yard, and the canal. Yes, a darn good read! I hope she writes us some more!

All photos: courtesy of  © Laura Morelli

About the Author: 

Also by Laura Morelli
Laura Morelli
Laura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She authored a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter GreenbergThe Frommers Travel Show, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, and other media.

Laura has taught college-level art history at Trinity College in Rome, as well as at Northeastern University, Merrimack College, St. Joseph College, and the College of Coastal Georgia. Laura has lived in five countries, including four years in Italy and four years in France.

Laura Morelli is the author of the guidebook series that includes Made in ItalyMade in France, and Made in the Southwest, all published by Rizzoli / Universe.

My artistic blog buddies might find this TED talk interesting!
Morelli's art history lesson, “What’s the difference between art and craft?” was produced and distributed by TED-Ed.

Was da Vinci an artistic genius? Sure, but he was also born in the right place at the right time -- pre-Renaissance, Western artists got little individual credit for their work. And in many non-Western cultures, traditional forms have always been prized over innovation. So, where do we get our notions of art vs. craft? Laura Morelli traces the history of how we assign value to the visual arts.


Roan said...

I'm adding this to my list of books I want to read. Sounds like a good one!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an interesting read. I'm off to Venice in October!

Nancy J said...

The book sounds so interesting, and would be a " start to end" in one sitting maybe, too hard to put down. Lovely you are able to post the photos, so very like Venice as I imagine it to be. Cheers,Jean.

William Kendall said...

It sounds like a good read!

Crafty Green Poet said...

this sounds interesting, I love reading about italy

Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

Oooh, this sounds right up my alley!

Kay said...

This was an interesting TED talk. It's good to get a better explanation of what is art and what is craft.