Thirst: A Novelby Mary Donnarumma Sharnick
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Venice, July, 1613: A suspicious drowning in the Lagoon and a deadly assault on a bridge shatter the dreams of Captain Lorenzo Contarini and his fiancée, la Signorina Caterina Zanchi, members of two noble Venetian families. While Caterina’s severe injuries banish her from society, her parents remove their other daughter, Leonora, from the convent to become Lorenzo’s hasty wife. Lorenzo’s investigation into his half-sister’s death compels him to accuse his maternal aunt, the Abbess of San Zaccaria, of murder. The ruthless Abbess deflects attention from herself by demonizing Leonora’s fellow nun and lover, Suor Serafina, as well as members of her own family. She is ably assisted by the feared and implacable Office of the Inquisition. The subsequent public trial brings together all of Venice and tests familial, religious, sexual, and political alliances. Old secrets are revealed to an avid crowd seeking cruel entertainment, forcing all present to wonder if it is possible to discover the entire truth. At once comforted by the ceaseless lap and sway of the enclosed Lagoon and threatened by the efficient cruelty of the Republic, those whose tale this is live and breathe in an ever-shifting world of bigotry and prejudice. Venice is never quite what it seems.
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This is such a great read! I couldn't put it down. You just have to find out what happened and why. The imagery is so good and some of the scenes so haunting, and then of course there is Venice. I can easily see this book becoming a movie. I loved it!
I think the element that made this book come alive for me is the characterization, particularly of the Abbess. If you think the stereotype of 17th century Venetians is simple people living simple lives, you'll think again after you meet her. I found every chapter to bring a new surprise (starting with the first page!) that kept me interested in the book throughout. I don't know much about Venice but many times I felt as if I were there. Hold onto your hat when reading this one.
In Mary Donnarumma Sharnick's Thirst, she artfully reveals the scandalous behaviors underlying the idyllic facade of historical Venezia. With characters of diverse backgrounds and temperaments all connected in some manner, this novel is full of drama, shock, and mystery. Quite a page-turner for me - I could not wait to discover the fate of each character! Thirst makes you question the nature of morality and the integrity of society's power-holders. As someone mentioned, I could certainly see this adapted for film!
I love historical fiction, and found Thirst to be fascinating, yet disturbing by the way women were treated in Venice in the 17th century. This novel was captivating in the way the characters were presented and connected. It was holy and, at the same time, unholy. Some of the scenes are very graphic and so well written that I felt as if I were in the room watching what was happening. A very impressive first novel...well done..
1613. The Republic of Venice has already reached its zenith as a sea-power controlling trade in the eastern Mediterranean. In addition to its commercial pre-eminence La Serenissima (The Most Serene Republic) was an important center of art and music, renowned for architectural landmarks such as St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s palace, the architect Palladio’s churches and palaces lining The Grand Canal, home of great artists like Titian and Tintoretto and the father of Italian opera, Monteverdi. Set in the twilight of Venice’s Golden Age, “Thirst” opens with preparations for the wedding of Caterina Zanchi and Lorenzo Contarini, an ostensibly happy event uniting two of Venice’s most powerful families. But a sinister undercurrent of deception, violence, and depravity runs beneath the glittering surface, polluting the culture like sewerage emptying into the beautiful and placid Lagoon. That subliminal corruption, hidden beneath a façade of propriety by a society bound by honor and a code of silence, will surface with tragic results. Returning to Venice following a long voyage, Captain Lorenzo witnesses an act of violence, the drowning of a newborn and its mother in the Lagoon. Moreover, he recognizes the woman as someone close to him and the shocking deed appears to involve representatives of both Church and State. That chance observation leads to an accusation that violates a Code of Silence (omertà) upon which the order and stability of the Honor culture depends. We all sin, and we all have our secrets; the crimes committed to cover those sins in the name of Honor are worse than the sins themselves. Once the authorities are involved, order and the appearance of virtue must be restored—at any cost. Quid est veritas? What is truth? Appearances are deceiving, and only God sees things as they really are. Moreover, people tend to believe facts that conform to the reality they wish to believe, and ignore facts to the contrary. Paolo Sarpi, an historical figure who makes a brief appearance in “Thirst”, alludes to the limits of human knowledge and perception. This epistemological problem brought to mind Machiavelli’s observation in The Prince: “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.” Mary Donnarumma Sharnick has written a gripping narrative that follows the trail of numerous interconnected misdeeds—lies, betrayals, rapes, murders and cover-ups—as they snake through Venice like the intricate network of canals around which the city is built. The characters are three-dimensional and believable, the imagery powerful, the prose polished, the dramatic structure skilful and compelling. Even at the point where the tragic denouement seemed inevitable, the strength of the narrative held my interest. Throughout, I questioned what the title alluded to: Is it a thirst for truth, justice, honor, revenge—or perhaps love? Regardless, I was left with the feeling that this “thirst” might be unquenchable, at least if one solely relies upon material means of refreshment. “Thirst” is an outstanding historical novel that appeals to the reader at many levels—as a meticulously researched period mystery, a thriller, a romance, and above all, as a psychologically complex novel of ideas and a work of considerable literary merit. Highly recommended.