The Four Seasons: Laurel Corona

★★★½

When two young sisters are abandoned on the doorstep of the Pietà in Venice in 1695, they enter the care of an extraordinary institution: part foundling hospital, part secular convent, and part conservatorio. The girls of the Pietà learn to love God through the medium of music, whether by playing an instrument or by singing in the weekly Masses, which draw admiring crowds to the chapel beyond the grille that prevents any of the performers being seen. And the soloists of the Pietà become stars, their talents as well-known as any opera singer’s, even though they must remain screened away. Of these two abandoned sisters, one, the playful and exuberant Chiaretta, will turn out to have a voice that wins her legions of admirers. The other, Maddalena, looks in vain for an instrument that sparks the inner core of her being. But then she discovers the violin, at around the time that the Pietà hires a young priest to help with giving lessons: a virtuoso violinist and budding composer with flaming red hair, named Antonio Vivaldi.

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The Mapmaker’s Daughter: Laurel Corona

★★★

Shortly after finishing In the Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree by Tariq Ali I was inspired to seek out other books about 15th-century Spain. I wanted to understand more about this period, in which the last shreds of the convivencia of Al-Andalus disappeared forever (if it had ever truly existed). In its place arose the orthodox Catholic Spanish state, with its Inquisition and its autos-da-fé. Laurel Corona’s novel offers a perspective which perfectly complements Ali’s: while he tells the story of Reconquista from a Muslim point of view, Corona looks at the experience of the Jewish people in Spain and Portugal at the same date. It was only at the end of the book that I came to realise how cleverly she has woven her protagonist into the history of two real and very distinguished Jewish families.

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