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Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Gondola Maker

The Gondola Maker 
Review of The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli:

Overview from In 16th-century Venice, the heir to a family boatyard rejects his destiny but is drawn to restore an old gondola with the dream of taking a girl for a ride.

Venice, 1581
Luca Vianello is the heir to the city’s most esteemed gondola-making family. But when an accidental tragedy strikes the boatyard, Luca believes his true calling lies elsewhere. Readers will appreciate the authentic details of gondola craftsmanship along with a captivating tale of artisanal tradition and family bonds set in one of the world’s most magnificent settings: Renaissance Venice.

My Review:

Okay, finally I am back. I hope no one missed me too much. I had hoped to be back last weekend but I was still too tired from my recent adventures.

This week I am excited to be finally reviewing The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli. I had already read an advanced released copy that she had sent out when she asked for help from her readers for some last minute editing and was anxious to see if anything had changed. Now that I have read it, I am not sure if I am remembering everything correctly since a lot has happened in the few months that have passed since I read it.

Our main character is one Luca Vianello, apprentice gondola maker in his father’s Venetian workshop. The story unfolds as Luca’s first person account so we see it only through his eyes. Fortunately he is an engaging story teller.

There is a bit of foreshadowing with the burning of the gondola that Luca has come to watch at the beginning. It got my attention because it stood in stark contrast to my previous impressions of the Venetian Republic as place of freedom for those who might be free in other Italian domains.

But the gondola-burning hints that perhaps Venice is not as free as I thought. A place where even a boat must pay the price of the crimes committed by its owner cannot be that free. The incident also sets the tone of the story very well.

Luca has a decent life, a chance at being someone of note in his future profession. That all changes one day with the death of his mother when he accidentally sets fire to their workshop. It is an accident, but who will believe him?

Fearing he will be accused of arson or worse, he leaves home and vows to find a way to make it on his own. Yet he cannot bear to leave Venice.

He does well on his own, eventually earning a position of respect as the gondolier for a respected Venetian painter. That is where he first encounters her, the woman who will throw his life out of balance, the unattainable Giuliana Zanchi.

Soon Luca finds himself working for the young girl also and slowly learning her story. Her life too, has been turned upside down. He understands her but can he trust her?

The story is not a conventional one but I didn’t lose interest. The main character is well-drawn and not clichéd in any way. I can’t recall many stories that I have ever read about skilled Venetian craftsmen who have fallen out with their families. And the ending was something of a surprise. It also seems to leave room for a potential sequel. Well, I can hope, anyway.

And although they are details about the art of gondola making, they don’t overwhelm the story. Unlike the author, I am not an art historian, but I don’t get bored.

It is also clear that the author knows Venice very well. I don’t understand how she manages to pull that off but she does and that makes all the more realistic. I just visited there recently and I would be hard pressed to tell you where anything was. It just seemed like a maze of gondolas, tourists, pretty bridges, and water. A beautiful maze but a maze nonetheless.

The only downside to this story for me was the lack of back story that was in the pre-edited copy of the book (at least I think I remember something about it) about the costume maker that Luca visits and how she built the business on her own after her husband left her. I liked that part and now it is gone but I guess it was because it was back story that didn’t relate to the main story. Still I was sad to see it go.

I think though that overall this was a great piece of Historical Fiction that really opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t considered before. I hope that my readers will enjoy it as well.

Contains: mild profanity (but no F bombs thank God) and illusions to prostitution

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