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Publisher's Summary

Alessandra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel walls in the family's Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter's abilities.

But their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra's parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man. Meanwhile, Florence is changing, increasingly subject to the growing suppression imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control. Alessandra and her native city are caught between the Medici state, with its love of luxury, learning, and dazzling art, and the hellfire preaching and increasing violence of Savonarola's reactionary followers. Played out against this turbulent backdrop, Alessandra's married life is a misery, except for the surprising freedom it allows her to pursue her powerful attraction to the young painter and his art.

The Birth of Venus is a tour de force, the first historical novel from one of Britain's most innovative writers of literary suspense. It brings alive the history of Florence at its most dramatic period, telling a compulsively absorbing story of love, art, religion, and power through the passionate voice of Alessandra, a heroine with the same vibrancy of spirit as her beloved city.

©2004 Sarah Dunant; (P)2004 Books on Tape, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Arresting tale of art, love and betrayal....Dunant's vivid, gripping novel gives fresh life to a captivating age of glorious art and political turmoil." (Publishers Weekly)
"Lush and intellectually gripping novel....This is a beautifully written and captivating work." (Booklist)
"The imaginative energy of the enterprise is clearly warmblooded, playful, even reckless....Dunant puts me in mind of a well-fed cat, quick-witted house cat, crouched before the mouse hole of history. She's not that hungry, but she will pounce upon whatever emerges, just for the fun of chasing is all over the house." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Sterlin invokes excitement in hushed tones and invites one to reflect on poignant moments. Both Dunant and Sterlin catch the excitement of this important period in history." (AudioFile)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall

Excellent

I completely enjoyed this audiobook, so much in fact that I finished it in a couple of days! The story was engrossing, well written, and educational, and the reader was clear, well-paced, and easy to listen to. I disagree with the person who tought the readers's voice was annoying. I found she was able to bring to life all the characters, and her tone never veered towards the boring.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

One of the best historical novels in a long time

I usually don't like preludes, but this one is the best I have ever heard (or read). The rest of the novel was just as good, with wonderful details of Renaissance Florence including the fabric--both real and metaphorical--of life as well as the customs, art and architecture, and religious and political issues. Interwoven is Alessandra's story, which has as many plot turns and surprises as a good mystery.





6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Emese
  • Wahiawa, HI, USA
  • 04-09-04

Great Listen

I loved this book from the very beginning till the end. The storyline, as well as the beautiful expression of thought and feeling pulled me inside the life of Alessandra and I could not wait to see what would happen next. I loved the narrrator's reading of the story too. While she did not get overly dramatic, the characters were clearly distinguishable and I could feel the emotions being played out in her tone of voice.
The book tells the story of an Italian girl coming of age during the end of the 15th century in Florence, Italy. She is a regular girl many of us can relate to from our own lives. It made me think of what my life would have been like, had I been born during those times.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

totally absorbing

Fabulous! The story was thoroughly engrossing. I listened to it every spare moment I could. The narrator couldn't do voices particularly well, but her own natural American-accented voice was clear and pleasant, and conveyed the emotion in the story.

When the story proper begins, Alessandra Cecchi is a teenaged girl in Medici Florence. She is bright, intelligent, and educated, and dreams of becoming an artist. She has problems most of us can appreciate: a squabbling relationship with her spoiled older brother; her envy of her older sister's blonde beauty; her discomfort with her tall, dark, lanky body; and her half embarrassment / half perverse pride in her lack of feminine accomplishments.

Her life changes drastically with the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Fear of the invading French army forces her hasty marriage to a wealthy and cultured older man who, to Alessandra's shock, has a secret which could spell disaster for all concerned as the monk Sevonarola's religious fervor takes control of the city. Although her marriage is an unhappy one, it does give Alessandra the freedom to pursue her education and her art.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story
  • Pam
  • United States
  • 02-17-13

Outside the walls of the cloister

Whereas Dunant's other book, "Sacred Hearts" focuses on life inside a cloister of nuns in 15th Century Europe, this book examines what life was like for women outside of the cloister at that time. Political and social forces were confining women to the home, and severely limiting their means of expression. The book provides a good explanation as to why women who otherwise wouldn't seek to join a religious order might seek refuge in a convent.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

TEDIOUS

Silly, uninspired plot of no particular interest. So unmemorable, I'm having difficulty using all of Audible's required fifteen words.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

narration makes the difference

This book was a book club selection and I knew it would be a pseudo romance novel what I didn't expect was the sub par narration. It was all I could do from deleting this from my mp3 player and borrowing a copy of the book. There was little inflection in the narrator's voice and no differentiation between characters. If I could return my purchase and get my money back I would. I certainly will make sure not to purchase any books with this narrator in the future. I have given this audio book 1 star. This does not infer that the actual book is a one star book. I would give the book 3 stars.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Artfully Imagined History - Poetically Crafted

I first read this book in hardcover years ago and it's been a favorite from the very first page. Sarah Dunant has a gift for diving into earlier centuries and drawing those characters into modern comprehension while seducing the reader into a time warp of another place and time - taking them on a historic adventure of art, history, politics, religion, love, strife, and life. Every word is a delicacy to savor. The journey is unforgettable. I love the Audible version. kathe Mazur's narration is sublime.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Well crafted and informative

Helped me understand the dynamics of the times. Good story line that made me want to continue without stopping. Narrator voice was soothing but I do agree with some readers that everyone, male and female, tended to sound alike and it made me have to listen harder.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Remarkable subject matter -- successful execution

While I agree that the narrator had significant deficiencies, the story was compelling enough to overlook her difficulties with some rather complex characters and dialects. The story is a fantastic brocade of art, history, and substantial character development. All of the characters make decisions that are unrealistic at times based on motives difficult to comprehend, but the story as a whole still holds together well. I recommend it for anyone who is interested in learning about Italian art in the Medici era from a very different point of view and hearing a remarkable love story at the same time.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful