Tuesday, May 20, 2014
THE GONDOLA MAKER by LAURA MORELLI
Laura Morelli is an art historian and writer and that is what makes this novel so interesting. The craft of building gondolas is one I had never even considered, but it is a long-standing family tradition in Venice. For people who know something about it, each gondola stands out as uniquely representative of one particular gondola making family, a source of pride for as long as that gondola is in use.
Teenager Luca Vianello is the upcoming heir to one of these families in 1581. At that time the burning of a gondola could be decreed as punishment for a crime. Luca adores his mother, a woman who has been pregnant most of her adult life. Most pregnancies have ended in miscarriage but then she dies giving birth to her last surviving child, and Luca is furious at his father for what he sees as murder. There is a fight in the workshop, a fire, and Luca runs away unable to face what he has done, or for that matter, his father.
His life in hiding in Venice is fascinating. We see the life of boatmen from the underbelly, as people associated with that life but without the esteem of gondola makers try to get by. It's a criminal life of thieves, prostitutes, and others living life on the edge. Costume makers make a good living from the propensity of the wealthy to hold sleazy costume parties; the costumes also giving boatmen a way into those parties.
Mostly though, this is about the burning desire in Luca to build Vianello gondolas himself. He works hard, falls in love, avoids getting caught up in criminal activities, and finally finds his opportunity.
I enjoyed learning about this golden age of gondolas and the families who created them. Also a Venice that is wildly different than the Venice I've read about before. Though the plot is occasionally too wrought with coincidence, that didn't bother me because I was caught up in the flow of the life of the boatmen.
Source: IRead Book Tours