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Tuscan Daughter

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Member Reviews

Tuscan Daughter by Lisa Rochon

Thank you to NetGalley, Harper Avenue/HarperCollins Canada for a digital ARC for my honest review.

It's nice to see what life might have been like during the early 1500s when Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo lived in Florence. I found this historical fiction very intriguing and would recommend it to anyone interested in the people, art and architecture of this time. The author certainly did her research to bring history alive.

#NetGalley #TuscanDaughter
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It's been awhile since I've read a historical fiction set in Italy and this one was so lovely! It did take me a little bit to get in to as I wasn't in the right mood however once it started going, I was finding that I quite enjoyed it!

Thank you HarperCollins and NetGallery for the ARC
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Anyone who enjoys historical fiction, art history, the work of Da Vinci and/or Michelangelo, or insight into the kinds of women's experience that rarely make it into history books will enjoy this book. It's well-written, and it kept me interested from beginning to end. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read the ARC.
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“Grieving is a boat filled with water that’s about to sink. Always on the brink of tipping over.” 

“Mourning is a boat that’s already overturned so that everybody can see the ruin. The people you trust can help right it again.”

With so many wonderful historical fiction books available about the Italian renaissance, authors need to find a unique way of presenting history to be successful. Rochon has introduced a fictional peasant girl from Settignano, a small village on the outskirts of Florence, to highlight and interpret the five years between 1500-1505 when both Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarotti lived in Florence. By allowing us a glimpse of history through a female gaze, Rochon has elevated her prose and spun a unique twist on interpreting history. She shows how superstars of the Renaissance quite possibly struggled with their own personal demons and harsh judgement. In Rochon’s own words she set out to show “outsiders who are geniuses and geniuses who are outsiders.” Her masterpiece is proof of her accomplishment. 

At thirteen years old Beatrice finds herself alone when her father dies, and her mother, unable to cope with the depression, runs off. Your heart will break when you read about Beatrice fending off Pisan marauders and stealing food to survive. To make ends meet, she travels barefoot to the walls of Florence, hoping to be permitted to sell her olive oil within the city walls. Each day she keeps her eye out for her mother in the opium dens, while selling to the artists. You’ll recognize names such as Leonardo, Michelangelo, Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio, Machiavelli, Perugino and Boticelli and marvel at the extensive research Rochon has executed in order to make this story come alive. 

Because I love this historical period, I’ve read many books about the David commission and carving but what I loved most about this book was that Rochon chose to focus on Madonna Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo – the Mona Lisa – and give insight into her mysterious gaze which has perplexed art historians for ages.

I loved that Rochon highlighted characters loving and supporting each other in their various struggles. The analogy she uses of us all being different branches of the same tree, drives this point home. Her characters acknowledge the genius in each other despite their competitive nature. The kindness shown by many is what keeps them alive during this cutthroat period. Rochon does not downplay homosexuality amongst those in the art world. 

If you appreciate historical fiction, particularly the Renaissance, this story of personal struggle, artistic rivalry and unrequited love needs to be on your radar come July 13, 2021.

I was gifted this early copy by Lisa Rochon, Harper Collins Canada, and NetGalley and was under no obligation to provide a review.
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Tuscan Daughter is a Historical Fiction set over the course of five years in early 16th century Florence. When her father is killed and her mother disappears, young Beatrice takes it upon herself to keep selling olive oil in the city in order to continue the hunt for her mother. In the city, Beatrice runs into an aging artist, Leonardo DaVinci, and earns his patronage as a buyer. In making a friendship with Leonardo, Beatrice’s world becomes intertwined with some of the greatest artists of her time.

Tuscan Daughter begins a bit stiffly, but this is smoothed out when other characters are introduced: Agnella, an older, independent woman who takes Beatrice under her wing, and the artists, Leonardo and Michelangelo. Beatrice comes out of her shell and even shows talent at being an artist in her own right, but while Beatrice still remains the main character, the conflicts of the two larger artists also take up large portions of the novel, and all are very entertaining.

The world is richly painted and the story is fast paced; we see the world of renaissance Florence through the eyes of an artist and an architect.  I think any lover of Historical Fiction will enjoy this book, though I’m not sure I would recommend it to Queer readers as homophobia and internalized homophobia are fairly prevalent plot points in the novel. Still, this does not mean that allies won’t learn something from the points brought up and I would certainly recommend it to them, especially as discussion points. Since it contains mild spoilers, I will discuss what I mean after the content warnings.

CW: Sexual Assault, Death of a Parent, Addiction, Homophobia, & Internalized Homophobia

**Mild Spoilers**

There is a budding friendship between Michelangelo and Beatrice that feels very natural and well-placed. However, due to social expectations at the time, many people, including Michaelangelo himself, try to force something more from the relationship (time and time again) to squash rumours of Michaelangelo’s homosexuality. I enjoyed this writer’s choice of a conflict, because Michelangelo and Beatrice don’t work as a romantic couple and we can very clearly see the unnatural strain on their relationship when it’s forced in that direction. The author also explores Beatrice’s conflicting feelings, since she does want Michaelangelo, but knows they do not work together. It’s a difficult plot point to balance and there are times when Beatrice comes out looking foolish, ignorant, and flawed, and that’s entirely okay! I feel as though other authors may have paired Michaelangelo and Beatrice together regardless, but I truly respect Rochon’s definitive decision to keep them as friends.

**Mild Spoilers Over**

*Thank you HarperCollins Canada and NetGalley for the ARC*
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Beatrice is a young olive oil seller whose father is dead, her grieving mother disappeared into the bowels of Florence. As Beatrice searches for her she sees da Vinci release a caged bird at the city gates. Mirroring Leonardo’s fascination with flight, she often draws birds discreetly on the city walls. She sells her oil to Michelangelo, watches the statue of David come to life and is gratefully tutored by Michelangelo in drawing. All three protagonists share the loss of a mother, Da Vinci was never acknowledged by his father, Michelangelo’s father was only interested in taking his son’s wages. 
For Madonna Lisa Gherardini, grief stricken by her daughter’s death, it is Beatrice’s kindness which helps bring her back to life. As the David is moved to its new resting place, Lisa sits for her portrait with Leonardo and under Beatrice’s careful diplomacy, the artists are each able to acknowledge the genius in the other, despite their competitiveness. It is Beatrice who brings accessibility and humanity to the artists’ greatness, aiding in their understanding that we are all branches of the same tree and that with great loss can come great accomplishment.
Tuscan Daughter frames a notable period in Florentine history, from 1500 to 1505, when Leonardo da Vinci and the young Michelangelo Buonarotti were in the city at the same time.  The great works of art produced during this critical period are front and centre – the enigmatic Mona Lisa, the massive sculpted David, and the Battle of Anghiari, which both men were commissioned to paint. Using impeccable research, Rochon has produced a vibrant novel about art, loss and human frailty; a story of great art, wealth and vanity and a simple olive oil seller who unites it all with humility.
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