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The Eyes of Venice by Alessandro Barbero

The Eyes of Venice (2011)

by Alessandro Barbero

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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594304,346 (3.33)9
Falsely accused of a crime he did not commit in sixteenth-century Venice, young stonesman Michele flees for his life aboard a galley, leaving behind his wife Bianca who grapples with finding her way in the dark and labyrinthine city.

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Showing 4 of 4
banale, sconclusionato, prolisso...
Alé, te lo potevi risparmiare!

( )
  icaro. | Aug 31, 2017 |
What a disappointment. This book had much to recommend it: Venice in the 1500s with all its intrigue, the Alessandro Manzoni Prize for Fiction, pirates, one of my favourite publishers, and even a lovely cover. Did I mention the promise of pirates?

What it actually delivered was an overwrought tale of a young couple, Bianca and Michele. They were separated when through his own stupidity, Michele was forced to flee Venice. Not pausing to think, he leapt onto a departing merchant galley and signed on as a "free" oarsman. This provides a pretext for taking the reader around the Mediterranean in order to meet a stereotyped character from just about every known port of call.

Meanwhile, Bianca was back in Venice, trying to defend her honour against all those evil types this most cosmopolitan of cities could throw at her. Could anything be more obvious than the name Bianca? How was she to make a living? The faithful Bianca was convinced that someday her Michele would come back to her, having first somehow dealt with the impediment of his sentence of banishment and the certain death that would await him if he returned.

Back to Michele, who had witnessed a dastardly crime on an unnamed island; a crime involving murder and lots of gold, a crime he could not reveal to anyone.

At times I felt embarrassed to be reading this book, although there was no one around to comment on such an odd choice. At other times, I told myself it was just a light summer read, so it was okay. Why did I keep reading? I think I just wasn't prepared to ditch the whole endeavour, and there was always that promise of pirates to liven things up. There was also hope. Not hope that Bianca and Michele would be reunited, that seemed a foregone conclusion, especially as the coincidences piled up. No, it was just the simple hope that things would improve, that this 483 page mediocrity disguised as a literary work might actually turn into a literary work.

Sometimes hope and perseverance are not rewarded.
2 vote SassyLassy | Aug 5, 2015 |
At the heart of this book set in 1500s Venice is a story of a young couple separated by unfortunate circumstances who must endure unspeakable hardships in order to survive and hopefully reunite. Michele is an apprentice stonemason studying under his father Matteo. When Michele is falsely accused of sedition and treason, he must flee Venice, which he does as an oarsman aboard a Venetian galley bound for Crete. In the course of his travels, he is a witness to theft, murder, and piracy, and discovered to be banished from the empire. He escapes to a fate even more dangerous, and must grow up in a hurry as he travels from one port to another throughout the entire Mediterranean. Michele’s wife Bianca, meanwhile, must also learn to survive among the desperately poor of Venice, and those who would help or abuse them.

The good:
This book describes many facets of life in Venice in the 1500s in great detail. The reader is led through the secret deliberations and machinations of The Council of Ten; the perpetually indentured oarsmen whose backbreaking labor is the conduit of trade, diplomacy, warfare, and piracy throughout the Mediterranean; the plight of the Venetian poor made desperate by famine; the many islands and ports of the Mediterranean whose hospitality varies greatly depending on who now has control of it (Venetian or Ottoman); and the strange intercourse of Christian, Muslim, and Jew at the crossroads of East and West. The reader sincerely aches for Michele and Bianca, and celebrates the kindness they receive from unexpected quarters amid abject despair.

The not-so-good:
The book is too long, and the reader is often bogged down in Venetian minutiae (the author is a renowned Italian professor of medieval history). Where some sections are too slow, others are too fast, or even rushed, especially toward the end. Other reviewers have mentioned the translation, and while I do not speak Italian, I can say that I did find myself wondering at the choice of words and haste of certain sections. Finally, the number of typographical errors really bothered me: hear for here, god for good, too for to, and the worst: Cypress for Cyprus! Maybe I am a snob, but the number and frequency of the errors really distracted me from the story.

I don’t generally assign stars to my reads – this one I might give 3.5-4. I think this slice of world history is fascinating, and Professore Barbero brings it to life admirably. I think its beautiful cover is my favorite of the year so far.
1 vote AMQS | Feb 18, 2014 |
The book is set in Venice and around the Mediterranean shortly before 1600 when there is an uneasy peace and cooperation between the Venetians and the Ottoman Empire. Amid this setting the main story follows a working class couple through the husband's banishment and their two stories as Bianca stays in Venice whilst Michele finds himself travelling through the Eastern Mediterranean. The most interesting parts of the book are where Christianity rubs up against Islam and Judaism, and the misconceptions of the different cultures echo through the centuries to the presnent day.

The book's strength is it deep knowledge of the period and place (the author is a renowned historian of the period) and you'll learn a lot of detail of how Venice was run, details of shipping and trade. At the same time, this is perhaps a downside -- in terms of writing style, the book spends a long time explaining thing, and you wonder whether some plot elements are there merely so the author can demonstrate his knowledge. Were this a place or period already knew anything about, I would find this somewhat wearing over 450 pages. However, it was all new to me, so I found it absorbing on a first read. ( )
  rrmmff2000 | Dec 8, 2012 |
Showing 4 of 4
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alessandro Barberoprimary authorall editionscalculated
Conti, GregoryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The sun had been shining all day, but now the breeze off the lagoon had turned cold and the sky over Venice was growing turbulent.
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Venice at the end of the 1500s is an unforgiving city. The Doge rules with an iron fist and the Holy Office harbors suspicions about everything and everyone. Even the walls have eyes. The Republic of Venice watches and listens, then passes judgment swiftly and definitively. In a city where everyone is assumed guilty of something, a young stonemason by the name of Michele has been accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Afraid for his life, he flees the city aboard a galley carrying gold coin, leaving behind his young wife, Bianca. Banished from his home, Michele embarks on a series of extraordinary adventures as the ship he travels on stops in every port and on every island of the Mediterranean. In order to survive this once naïve and immature boy must fast become a man, one possessed of cunning, courage and fortitude.

Bianca remains alone in the cruel and treacherous Venice. She faces challenges that are, if anything, even more difficult than those of Michele, and will encounter all the terrors and mysteries that the labyrinthine city holds in its blind alleys and narrow passageways. And she, like Michele, will discover in herself a tenacious and indestructible will to survive.
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