Friday, April 07, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: Maddalena by Eva Jana Siroka

Eva Jana Siroka’s debut novel, Maddalena, feels like it has come from an earlier age, one where novels are paced slowly and setting is as important as action. This beautifully illustrated novel, featuring twenty-three original watercolors by the author, took ten years to research, write and illustrate. Siroka, a renaissance art historian, has taken the story of Titian’s famous painting, Penitent Magdalen (originally owned by the historical Alessandro Farnese’s brother-in-law) and brought it vibrantly to life.

Set in 16th century Rome, Maddalena is the story of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese’s love for Monna Rebecca, a Jewish apothecary; her conversion to Christianity; and his quest to become Pope. Maddalena (the converted Rebecca) is of the wrong class, religion, and color, but this does not deter Farnese, determined to possess Maddalena, even if it will cost him the papal chair.

Maddalena is also the story of a papacy weakened by epic corruption and a struggle for power, told through the eyes of Bartholomaeus (Berti) Spranger, a Flemish born painter to Cardinal Farnese and later the Pope. The reader is introduced to a period that saw the birth of great art and musical achievements yet included the harshest days of the Catholic Inquisition, a time when the simplest transgressions could lead to horrific punishments. As this intricate novel unfolds, the reader journeys with Cardinal Farnese in his struggle to balance his passion for Maddalena and his ambitions.

Siroka bring this important period in Rome’s history dramatically to life. Her writing is at its best when transporting readers to the streets of Rome, evoking the sights, sounds and smells of the teaming city. The author’s years of research into the lives of sixteenth-century, North European painters has paid off by creating a dazzling world. Initially the variations of character’s names used, and the shear number of secondary characters is overwhelming and daunting; however the plot quickly draws in the reader.

Notwithstanding the fascinating history woven into this powerful novel, first and foremost this is a novel of love and relationships. This reader eagerly awaits Bartholomaeus, the second book of The Golden Tripolis trilogy, which will be set in imperial Prague.

See the review as it is posted at Armchair Interviews - Maddalena.

1 comment:

Lotus Reads said...

Wow, Janelle, you're managing to get a lot of reading done! Good on you!