We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Gondola Maker - a book review

Today's post is something a little out of the ordinary for me, but nonetheless, a wonderful new experience for me.

Recently I received an email from Laura Fabiani of Italy Book Tours inviting me to read and review The Gondola Maker, by Laura Morelli.  This book was already on my current list of books to read; naturally I was happy to accept the offer.


The book cover tempted me, like offering sweets to a child. 

The book synopsis sent along with the book offered more sumptuous enticements.  I've included it below for you to be tempted yourself:

From the author of Made in Italy comes a tale of artisanal tradition and family bonds set in one of the world's most magnificent settings: Renaissance Venice. 

When Luca Vianello, the heir to a renowned gondola-making enterprise, experiences an unexpected tragedy in the boatyard, he believes that his destiny lies elsewhere. Soon he finds himself drawn to restore an antique gondola with the dream of taking a girl for a ride. Lovers of historical fiction will appreciate the authentic details of gondola craftsmanship, along with an intimate first-person narrative set against the richly textured backdrop of 16th-century Venice.

IPPY Award for Best Adult Fiction E-book 
Finalist for the National Indie Excellence Award 
Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award 
Shortlisted for the da Vinci Eye Prize 

From the moment I flipped open the front cover to the very last page, I was enthralled. I will be the first to admit I had my doubts initially. I'm a tough customer to please. Here was a historical fiction about Venice, and not only that, specifically about gondola and forcole (the oarlock)  making. As someone who knows and loves this city, and knows several  artisanal craftsmen personally,  I was curious to see how Morelli could possibly capture all that Venice is- her grandness, the magic, the mystery,the  romance, the very essence of her. Surprise, surprise. Laura Morelli not only does it, she does it masterfully. 

The plot is intriguing, the characters so perfectly written you feel as though you know them as you are reading, the setting true to this marvelous city.  You cannot help but read on. And when you get to the last lines, you find yourself wanting still more. For me, this is the test a book must pass. The Gondola Maker passes with flying colors.  

Happily, I was able to interview Laura Morelli briefly.I hope my questions, and Laura's responses, let you get to know the author a little better.

1.It's obvious you did your homework about Venice, and it's history. Did you spend time in Venice while you were writing ?  If so, how long?

I lived in northern Italy for four years and spent a lot of time in Venice. The inspiration for THE GONDOLA MAKER came as I was researching another book called MADE IN ITALY back in 2001-2002. I traveled all over Italy, from the Alps to the islands, talking with contemporary artisans who still practice centuries-old traditions like Murano glass, Florentine leather, Sicilian ceramics, Roman goldsmithing, and of course, Venetian gondolas. Over and over, the extraordinary people I interviewed told me how important it was to pass the torch of tradition on to the next generation. I began to wonder what would happen--especially centuries ago--if the successor were not able... or willing. The character of the gondola maker and his son began to take shape in my head. As I began to work on THE GONDOLA MAKER in earnest, it was an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the primary historical sources about the history of the gondola, the world of the guilds or arti, and the role and reputation of boatmen in Renaissance Venice.

2.  You mentioned the idea for the book was based on wondering what might have happened if someone chose not to carry on the family traditional work.  How did you decide to use the gondola makers, as opposed to say, cheese makers?

I grew up around boats and the ocean, so the idea of boatbuilding has always been very alive for me. And of course, the gondola is such a specific artisanal tradition and so closely linked with Venice as to be synonymous with the city itself. A family boatyard (or squero) seemed the natural setting for this story. Cheese makers would make another great tale, though!

3. Your other books are non-fiction. Had you been dreaming of writing fiction at some point? 

Yes, I have wanted to write a novel for as long as I have known how to write at all. I wanted to pursue my passion and my career in art history, but I always felt certain that writing fiction would work its way into my life at some point.

4. Do you have any authors that have influenced your work as a writer?

I enjoy reading other historical fiction authors, including Barbara Kingsolver, Abraham Verghese, Ken Follett, and Umberto Eco. I appreciate authors who are masters of sensory writing--the art of conveying sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and physical sensations through words. One of the best examples of sensory writing is Perfume by Patrick Suskind. It's one of my all-time favorite stories.

5. What book is on your nightstand currently?

Right now I'm reading Laurence Bergreen's account of Marco Polo's journey to the court of Kublai Khan in the thirteenth century (Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu). I've especially enjoyed reading about the unexpected predicaments in which the travelers found themselves. Surely major mishaps must have been guaranteed for anyone embarking on a long international journey during the Middle Ages.

6. Are you working on another writing project? 

Yes. Currently I'm working on a series of city and regional guides that lead travelers to the most authentic arts in each destination. The name of the series is LAURA MORELLI'S AUTHENTIC ARTS. Each destination includes a core handbook available in paperback and ebook formats, as well as an ebook-only companion that is a continually updated list of resources and authentic artisans. The first set of books is about Venice, and they will be out in early 2015. You can find out more about the series here: http://lauramorelli.com/laura-morellis-authentic-arts-series-coming-in-2015/. Once these guides are out, I'm returning to historical fiction. 

Grazie, Laura!

About the Author

Laura Morelli earned a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and an Andrew W. Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She has taught college art history in the U.S. and at Trinity College in Rome. She is the creator of the authentic guidebook series that includes Made in ItalyMade in France, and Made in the Southwest, published by Rizzoli. Laura is a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler and other national magazines and newspapers. A native of coastal Georgia, she is married and is busy raising four children. The Gondola Maker is her first work of fiction.
Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter  ~  about.me

Where to buy the book:

Here is the list of other blogs included on the Blog Tour for The Gondola Maker, in case you wish to read other reviews of the book.

Nov 3 - Studentessa Matta - review / giveaway
Nov 3 - Il Mio Tesoro - review / giveaway
Nov 4 - Packabook - review
Nov 4 - Venice from Beyond the Bridge - review
Nov 5 - Monica Cesarato - review / giveaway
Nov 5 - Seductive Venice - review
Nov 6 - Food Lover's Odyssey - review / giveaway
Nov 7 - The Venice Experience - review / interview
Nov 8 - Hello World - review
Nov 9 - Orvieto or Bust - review
Nov 9 - Capturing Venice - review

The Gondola Maker deserves to be on your must read list. It's that good. 


Laura Morelli said...

Karen, many thanks for your wonderful review of THE GONDOLA MAKER! I'm so glad you enjoyed the story. --Laura Morelli, www.lauramorelli.com

Anonymous said...

Well done, Karen. I appreciated the interview with the author. She's rather brilliant!

Dianne said...

Thanks for letting your readers know about this book and author. I went to Amazon and soon it will be speeding on its way to me and helping me dream of Venice.

Dianne said...

Karen, Thanks for turning me on to this book. I am almost finished reading it and love it. Question -- what was a Conciliator -- kind of like a member of the Doge's advisory committee?

karen said...

Ciao, Diane. I assumed the same about a Concilliator. Might have to pass that question along to the author.