Abandoned as an infant, fourteen-year-old Anna Maria Dal Violin is one of the elite musicians living in the foundling home where the “Red Priest,” Antonio Vivaldi, is maestro and composer. Fiercely determined to find out where she came from, Anna Maria embarks on a journey of self-discovery that carries her into a wondrous and haunting world of music and spectacle, bringing eighteenth-century Venice magically to life.
MY RATING: 4 STARS
Oh my goodness gracious…I had to read this one twice. I raced through it the first time and realized I hadn’t paid enough attention to give it a decent review, I was so caught up in the poetry of the narrative. No exaggeration, I’ve never read prose this lyrical. I doubt I’ve read anything written with such detail, either. This is how you write historical fiction, painstaking research woven in so seamlessly that the world comes to life and the research itself becomes invisible. The Venice of the novel, the everyday life at the Pieta, the class distinctions, the ballrooms and the theaters, all were so vibrant and alive it was breathtaking.
We have the author’s assurances that Anna Maria dal Violin really lived and taught at the Pieta, but I couldn’t imagine her any differently than as Ms. Quick described her, a lonely girl in search of her mother, music the only constant in her life. Her misadventures with her friends were funny and heartwarming, if the consequences were severe, but her relationships with Sister Laura and her beloved maestro Antonio Vivaldi fascinated me the most. Her story, told in letters from her fourteen-year-old self and from her mature, middle-aged perspective was engaging, discovering her place in the world and learning the truth of her birth.
Life at the Pieta is sheltered and rigid, rocked by politics and the occasional scandal. Anna Maria’s secret sojourns outside to the opera, the Jewish Ghetto, and the ball of one of Venice’s premiere aristocrats kept things lively, but my favorite passages always concerned music. Through Ms. Quick’s descriptions, it becomes a faithful, breathing entity, the ultimate gift from God brought to life by even the lowliest of His children. They are hidden from the world, but they give Venice the music of Heaven.
There is a spiritual aspect to the book I can’t quite put into words, centered around family, music, and the beauty of a well-kept secret. The story itself was lovely and the writing enchanting; I sense a recommending spree coming on…if you are interested in eighteenth-century Italy, music, Vivaldi, historical fiction, short books, well-written books, and purple prose (but not too purple), you’ve got to read this!