The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato first caught my eye because of it's location. I traveled briefly to Venice and Murano in 2008 and I was entranced by both islands. It's humbling to explore a city as old as Venice and it's hard not to be drawn into the mystique, even when you're overwhelmed by tourist kitsch off St. Mark's Square.
When folks talk about Venetian glass, most of those products come from the island of Murano, which is a few miles north of Venice proper. There are still active fornace there today and dozens of tiny glass shops line the canals.
In ancient Venice glassmakers held a very high position in society and they were the sole practitioners of this mysterious art for centuries. Unfortunately the Venetian Republic held a monopoly over the artisans by forbidding them from leaving the Republic or sharing glassmaking methods, particularly those that involved mirror-making.
Glassblower starts with one such ancient artisan, Corradino Manin. He is one of the Republic's great glassmakers, and he has betrayed his homeland and his fellows to protect someone he loves.
The novel speeds forward to the present day where we meet Corradino's descendant, Leonora. She's come to Venice to start a new life after a difficult divorce, and to try and convince the male-dominated glassmaking industry to let her study with them.
As the book flips back and forth between the two family members, Leonora struggles with the fallout of Corradino's actions 400 years later, and in turn we learn the truth from Corradino's perspective.
Love plays a large role in this novel, though it may not always be pure or perfect. The love of a parent for their child; love of power; and love for the art of glassmaking dominate the characters' lives. This is a transformative force for both Corradino and Leonora, and drives them from the homes they've always known.
Glass (ah, what a great literary device) acts as a metaphor for change for the characters and Europe, and also a symbol of Venetian power and it's fragility. For the Manins, it's becomes a manifestation of themselves and I think at times a restriction.
Corradino reflects: "My identity has become one with the glass. Somewhere in Venice, or far overseas, my own skin lies embedded in the hard silica of a goblet or candlestick."
I enjoyed the book, but felt that the modern portions were a bit predictable and not as rich as Corradino's passages, and there were some flaws in how some of the other characters were (not really) developed. There's also a pretty big event in Leonora's story that I felt could have turned into a deeper sub-plot.
This is definitely a chick-lit version of a historical fiction novel and only goes as far as introducing Venetian life and glassmaking. I trolled a few other reviews after writing this and a lot of folks were disappointed by this fact, but it becomes pretty obvious after two chapters or so that this is no Bernard Cornwell or Tracy Chevalier novel. However, I still found it to be an enjoyable and I appreciated Fiorato's little details about Venice that illustrated the many facets of Venetian life.
Pass it On