Book Review: The Birth of Venus

The Birth of Venus
Sarah Dunant

The grand panorama of the Renaissance Florence of Lorenzo Medici and Savonarola is largely denied to young Alessandra Cecchi, who strains against the social and religious constrictions of her time that imprison women in the homes of their fathers and husbands. Luckily for the reader, our heroine seizes every chance to experience humanist learning and art in the freshness of its birth through her eager eyes and mind.

The Birth of Venus is historical fiction with a dollop of romance, but Sarah Dunant has not left the thriller genre entirely behind. Torture, slavery, evisceration and childbirth, the sublimity of the Virgin, Dante and Botticelli, all challenge Alessandra as she seeks freedom in a rapidly evolving new world.

At age sixteen Alessandra is introduced to her prospective husband, Christofero Langella, a wealthy middle-aged scholar and art collector.

Langella asks, “So tell me, Alessandra Cecchi, do you love the art of our fair city?”

“Oh I adore it,” she says, “and you?”

“The very same. That is why Savonarola’s words don’t freeze my soul.”

“You are not a sinner?” she asks.

“On the contrary. I sin often. But I believe in the power of love and beauty as an alternative route to God and redemption.”

Fine details and rich characterization reward the attention of the reader who maneuvers with Alessandra through Florence’s narrow streets, the chambers of her wool merchant father’s palazzo and the shifting rivalries of her siblings. Venus is born as Alessandra at last learns the secrets of her true protector and ally.

Alessandra is an alert companion for your arm chair tour of Florence at the height of its historic and artistic brilliance.

Experience The Birth of Venus.

David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library