Monday, October 15, 2007

Living History

One of my favorite genre of books is historical fiction. I find it fascinating to lose myself in some historical place, imaging the everyday life of the characters in vivid detail. Part of my fascination with history is to explore the people and what their lives were. mundane details are so interesting, how they traveled, shopped, cooked, cleaned, bathed, etc; what kind of education they received (or didn't), what determined their station, well I could go on and on.

I know these are fiction but they explore different time periods and most of the authors I read do extensive research. Anyway, what's really cool is when I can read a story and recognize the places they are set. even better VISIT the places in which they are set.

Case in point:

Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex

This is a story about Isabella & Beatrice d'Este, sisters in the famous Este family. (I was very excited by the Este family because my husband grew up not far from the town). Isabella marries Francesco Gonzaga (of Mantua), Beatrice marries Ludovico Sforza (of Milan). Isabella is by far the most famous of the sisters and was reputed to be a very powerful woman and close companion of Leonardo Da Vinci. Reading the story sparked an interest in learning about all 3 of those families and Gonzaga became much more than a NCAA college to me! And look, here is a picture of modern day Mantua as taken by my husband a couple of weekends ago (without me, sigh). But cool no?

Another example:

The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips

I loved this book from a first time author which is set in Venice, both modern and historical times. Venice is of course my favorite city in Italy and in a region I have visited many times. So I am reading the book and they start mentioning Padova. Hey Padova - I am very familiar with that city! Back in the day, it was a refuge for the Venetians during the heat of summer and the countryside is full of Venetian villas and palatial grounds. Not giving anything away about the story, the main historical character writes to her cousin in Padova and the city itself becomes an aspect of intrigue and possibly a refuge? Anyway, as I was reading about it- the faded facades I have seen in person came alive with the grandeur they once must have had.

And finally:

In the Company of a Courtesan by Susan Dunant

Set in Renaissance Venice after the 1527 sack of Rome. I will admit, at times this book is hard to read because it does give you a very vivid picture of the not so nice aspects of the renaissance world. It was dirty and gross and some of the savagery is simply astounding. But wow, to read the descriptions of the places you may have seen such as the "ghetto" in Venice, well that is amazing. I knew basic history about the "ghetto" from my husband when we visited it, but reading how everyday life may have been in that small space and actually being able to stand in it, well the past really comes alive. Honestly, I can't wait to go back and wander the streets, with a more vivid picture of what it may have been like 500 years ago. This picture is not the "ghetto" but I don't imagine the general landscape looked much different in the past.

I could go on and on, but I won't. =) I know not everyone is as passionate about history as I can be, but I think if you can actually experience some of it, it becomes more interesting. It doesn't even matter if the history is 200 years old or 2000, it is the continuation of life and all the changes that must happen to sustain it. The fact that hundreds of years ago, someone stood in the exact spot you are standing. I wonder what they were thinking/doing. Were they thinking about the future or the past: or just about getting through the day. What did their world look like and would anything be familiar to them in this age?

Its one of the things I love about Italy when I'm there. What can I discover today? Who discovered it before me? Who will discover it after me?

Deep thoughts...hehe

More later


chris & erin said...

thanks for the recommendations for the In the Company of a Courtesan! I think I would love this book...I'll have to look for it. I just watched A Dangerous Beauty (also called "A Destiny of Her Own" and "The Honest Courtesan" last night! It's a wonderful view of that time in Venice.

Cynthia Rae said...

I love to read book set in Italy! I will have to give some of these a try. I am a little familiar with the d'Este family. They ruled a little town around here called Ferrara. Also, I live in an area known as Romagna d'Este (there is a link to it on my blog).

If you like history mixed with ficiton, you should try Mario Puzz's "The Family". I thought it was about a mob family, but it turns out it was about THE FIRST "mob family". Do the names Ceseare or Lucrezia ring a bell? How about Borgia?

Thanks for the ideas!


Cynthia Rae said...

ps. Guess I should proof my posts a little better. Looks like I missed a couple of letters. Heheheheh!


KC said...

I love reading historical fiction, too. I'm really interested in the first one because it's about the Gonzaga. I actually did quite a bit of research on Renaissance Mantua when I was a grad student, so I think it would be really interesting to read about it in a different genre.