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The Birth of Venus (Reader's Circle) Paperback – 30 Nov 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade; Reprint edition (30 Nov. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812968972
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812968972
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.6 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 616,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

The Birth of Venus is all the more fascinating a historical novel for the author's inability to make up her mind what it is about. Is it a novel about the limited choices available to a woman with talent in Renaissance Florence--marriage or the convent? Or is it a novel about the choices you make to survive in a totalitarian society? As Savonarola takes Florence closer and closer to being an ascetic theocracy, Alessandra, her gay brother and his lover whom she has married for mutual protection find themselves in more and more peril. It could also be a detective story--Allesandra is in love with a painter whose religious mania and fascination with the body makes him a plausible suspect for a series of killings and dismemberments. Some historical novels wear their research too heavily--Dunant's is light, fluent and pacy, but her fascination with the possibilities revealed by research leaves her failing to make choices.

The Birth of Venus is a highly intelligent novel kept from incoherence mostly by the intensely imagined Alessandra, through whose eyes we see the tragic end of a key moment in human culture and whose lively sensibility constantly sparks ideas about art and her time. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

" Simply amazing, so brilliantly written...almost intolerably exciting at times, and at others, equally poignant."
- Antonia Fraser
" A beautiful serpent of a novel, seductive and dangerous...full of wise guile, the most brilliant novel yet from a writer of powerful historical imagination and wicked literary gifts. Dunant's snaky tale of art, sex and Florentine hysteria consumes utterly- but the experience is all pleasure."
- Simon Schama
" Sarah Dunant has given us a story of sacrifice and betrayal, set during Florence's captivity under the fanatic Savonarola. She writes like a painter, and thinks like a philosopher: juxtapositioning the humane against the animal, hope against fanaticism, creativity against destruction. The Birth of Venus is a tour de force."
- Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
" Dunant has created a vivid and compellingly believable picture of Renaissance Florence: the squalor and brutality; the confidence and vitality; the political machinations. Her research has obviously been meticulous....A magnificent novel."
- The Telegraph (London)
" It's to Dunant's credit that the vast quantities of historical information in this book are deployed so naturally and lightly....On the simplest level, this is an erotic and gripping thriller, but its intellectual excitement also comes from the way Dunant makes the art and philosophy of the period look new and dangerous again....Theology has rarely looked so sexy."
- The Independent (London)
" No one should visit Tuscany this summer without this book. It isrichly textured and driven by a thrillerish fever."
- The Times (London)
" [Dunant' s] control, pace, and instinct are well-nigh impeccable."
- The Financial Times

"From the Hardcover edition."

"Simply amazing, so brilliantly written...almost intolerably exciting at times, and at others, equally poignant."
-Antonia Fraser
"A beautiful serpent of a novel, seductive and dangerous...full of wise guile, the most brilliant novel yet from a writer of powerful historical imagination and wicked literary gifts. Dunant's snaky tale of art, sex and Florentine hysteria consumes utterly-but the experience is all pleasure."
-Simon Schama
"Sarah Dunant has given us a story of sacrifice and betrayal, set during Florence's captivity under the fanatic Savonarola. She writes like a painter, and thinks like a philosopher: juxtapositioning the humane against the animal, hope against fanaticism, creativity against destruction. The Birth of Venus is a tour de force."
-Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
"Dunant has created a vivid and compellingly believable picture of Renaissance Florence: the squalor and brutality; the confidence and vitality; the political machinations. Her research has obviously been meticulous....A magnificent novel."
-The Telegraph (London)
"It's to Dunant's credit that the vast quantities of historical information in this book are deployed so naturally and lightly....On the simplest level, this is an erotic and gripping thriller, but its intellectual excitement also comes from the way Dunant makes the art and philosophy of the period look new and dangerous again....Theology has rarely looked so sexy."
-The Independent (London)
"No one should visit Tuscany this summer without this book. It is richly textured and driven by a thrillerish fever."
-The Times (London)
"[Dunant's] control, pace, and instinct are well-nigh impeccable."
-The Financial Times

"From the Hardcover edition."

Simply amazing, so brilliantly written...almost intolerably exciting at times, and at others, equally poignant.
Antonia Fraser
A beautiful serpent of a novel, seductive and dangerous...full of wise guile, the most brilliant novel yet from a writer of powerful historical imagination and wicked literary gifts. Dunant s snaky tale of art, sex and Florentine hysteria consumes utterly but the experience is all pleasure.
Simon Schama
Sarah Dunant has given us a story of sacrifice and betrayal, set during Florence s captivity under the fanatic Savonarola. She writes like a painter, and thinks like a philosopher: juxtapositioning the humane against the animal, hope against fanaticism, creativity against destruction. The Birth of Venus is a tour de force.
Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
Dunant has created a vivid and compellingly believable picture of Renaissance Florence: the squalor and brutality; the confidence and vitality; the political machinations. Her research has obviously been meticulous....A magnificent novel.
The Telegraph (London)
It s to Dunant s credit that the vast quantities of historical information in this book are deployed so naturally and lightly....On the simplest level, this is an erotic and gripping thriller, but its intellectual excitement also comes from the way Dunant makes the art and philosophy of the period look new and dangerous again....Theology has rarely looked so sexy.
The Independent (London)
No one should visit Tuscany this summer without this book. It is richly textured and driven by a thrillerish fever.
The Times (London)
[Dunant s] control, pace, and instinct are well-nigh impeccable.
The Financial Times

"From the Hardcover edition.""

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Art, history, politics, sex, lust, and love are all combined in this truly engaging story set in the city of Florence in the 1490's. The Catholic Church is fighting for supremacy, as a world of fundamentalist Christian doctrine is bought to life. And Durant does a fine job of recreating this rich and provocative period in European history, as she deftly and powerfully brings to life the desires, fears and hopes of Alessandra Cecchi, the young protagonist of the story. Through a complex, yet common sense first person narrative Durant creates a world steeped in rich historical drama and tragedy, as the lies, hypocrisy, betrayals and family loyalties of the Cecchi family are laid bare.
The focus of this masterful first person narrative is the young, headstrong and willful Alessandra who, not quite fifteen becomes intoxicated with a young painter's abilities, when his father commissions him to paint the chapel walls of their Florentine palazzo. For Alessandra her teenage freedom is threatened when her parents arrange to marry her to a wealthy, much older man who is having a clandestine affair with another member of the family. The family struggles are played out against the backdrop of civil unrest between the followers of the fundamentalist monk Savonarola and those of the Medici family, with their love of comfort, sumptuousness, art and sculpture.
Part historical treatise and part love story, The Birth of Venus is packed with religious and visual symbolism, as Durant effortlessly describes a truly extraordinary period in history.
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Format: Paperback
Sarah Dunant weaves a tapestry as rich and as the cloths of Alessandra Cecchi's merchant father's, in her book about late fifteenth century Florence. This is the uplifting story of the indomitable spirit of a talented and fiercely intelligent young woman, and how her spirit finds a way in a repressive religious and masculine world. It is reminiscent of "Girl with a Perl Earring" in its ability to evoke the texture, smells, sights and sounds of a city and a culture of five centuries ago. The story is riveting, the characters deep, multifaceted and engaging. This is a first class read. Sarah Dunant has created a beautiful, soaring spirit in Alessandra, a woman who will stay with you long after you've finished the book. Ms Dunant has also managed to create some of the most beautiful passages of physical intimacy I've read. Compelling, hauntingly beautiful, a must read!
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Format: Paperback
I have just finished this book and every page took my breath away. You are left at the end of every chapter guessing what will happen next, and I was often surprised at the outcome. It is a whirlwind novel and all credit should go to the author. I fell in love with the main character Alessandra and together we explored Florence and it's people at first with naivity then with the utmost confidence. This is a must for everyone!!!
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Format: Paperback
This is one of the most sensual books I have ever read, and not just because of the romantic plot which comprises the book's core. Even when witnessing the turbulent and frequently horrific events in Renaissance Florence through the eyes of 15-year-old Alessandra, Sarah Dunant's prose is always seductive and captivating. I was breathless with anticipation every time I turned a page. The best book I've read in years.
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Format: Paperback
I am not into historical novels but as I was going to Florence on holiday and the subject matter involved the city I bought this book. What a book! It blew me away. As I read it I feel in love with the main character Alessandra. The spirit, vivacity, touching innocence of this woman makes you want to put your hand around her and take her away from Rennaisance Florence - though I very much doubt she would have allowed it.
Dunant has produced a masterpiece. The language is to be savoured as she draws you into centuries gone by with its sight and smells as if it was real. I cannot wait for her next book. Read and Recommend.
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Format: Paperback
To begin with i thought the novel was a bit slow, however, i did manage to get into the novel, and enjoyed it thoroughly once i did. The writer manages to create great tension between the narrator and the young mysterious painter, initially i found some actions of the characters (i'm trying not to give anything away!) quite difficult to understand, but Dunant manages to justify each characters acts through the narrator, and you begin to understand things more as she matures.

Through Dunant's novel, you realise how magnificent the renaissance was, but also some of the catastrophes that took place. The descriptions of the art in the book are excellent, and it left me extremely interested in the work of michelangelo and other renaissance artists.

Overall, it is an excellent book and a pleasure to read.
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Let me say right away that I love everything Sarah Dunant creates - for me, she does not put a foot wrong and her complex and absorbing tales are couched in such excellent prose, that you never want them to end. The Birth of Venus is another piece of perfection.

An elderly nun passes away after what seemed to her community to have been a long and painful illness. However, when her body is taken to be reverently prepared for burial, what is discovered is as unexpected and challenging for the reader as for the shocked nuns. We spin back from there to the beginning of a wonderful story of Renaissance Florence, encompassing the brilliance and brutality of the City State itself, the madness of Savonarola's Bonfire of the Vanities, and the impossibility of a young woman having any life other than that chosen by her father. Alessandra wants to paint and when a troubled young artist comes to her home to work on the family chapel, all sorts of dreams and emotions are stirred, and a shared love of art becomes a shared love. .

Alessandra's father meanwhile, has arranged a convenient marriage for her to an older man who has his own deep and dangerous secret. Whilst this husband does not love his young wife, he comes to like and respect her, as they reach a mutual understanding and can protect each other in the fraught atmosphere of fanaticism prevailing in Florence at this time. She also has a measure of freedom, as a married woman, that otherwise she could never have imagined and her ability to move around the City and become involved in her art and her artist broadens her mind in many, many ways, leaving her with few illusions about man and his hard-wired cruelty.
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