Author Spotlight: Sarah Dunant

Author Spotlight
Sarah Dunant
Author of "The Birth of Venus", "In The Company of a Courtesan", and her latest novel "Sacret Hearts"

Vanessa and I, along with my mom and Nely from All About {n}, had the pleasure of meeting Sarah and hearing her speak at Books & Books in Coral Gables, FL.

Sarah was absolutely delightful! She was so witty and knowledgeable and I can honestly say that I was hanging on to her every word. Rather than reading from her new novel, Sacred Hearts, she took a different approach. She spoke to us about what each of her historical novels represented, the research she had to do to accurately write about a time and people that have been long gone and about the significance of bringing these women and their stories to life. She spoke so intelligently and was able to convey life in the middle ages with such ease. She is not only a writer, but a teacher as well!

Her first historical novel is "The Birth of Venus" which I read some time ago. It was what made me fall in love with Sarah's work and with historical fiction in general. It is the amazing story of Alessandra Cecchi, a young girl growing up during the Italian Renaissance in the 15th-Century.

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Alessandra's story, though central, is only one part of this multi-faceted and complex historical novel. Dunant paints a fascinating array of women onto her dark canvas, each representing the various fates of early Renaissance women: Alessandra's lovely (if simple) sister Plautilla is interested only in marrying rich and presiding over a household; the brave Erila, Alessandra's North African servant (and willing accomplice) has such a frank understanding of the limitations of her sex that she often escapes them; and Signora Cecchi, Alessandra's beautiful but weary mother tries to encourage yet temper the passions of her wayward daughter.

A luminous and lush novel, The Birth of Venus, at its heart, is a mysterious and sensual story with razor-sharp teeth. Like Alessandra, Dunant has a painter's eye--her writing is rich and evocative, luxuriating in colors and textures of the city, the people, and the art of 15th-century Florence. Reminiscent of Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring, but with sensual splashes of color and the occasional thrill of fear, Dunant's novel is both exciting and enchanting.

Isalys's Review:
Alessandra was a very spirited and unconventional girl. Rather than surrendering to a life of motherhood and servitude, she longed for so much more. She was intelligent, educated and artistic - things that were not considered respectable for a woman in her time. She couldn't sing or dance, but she could bring art to life and translate Latin faster than anyone else in her family. She was discouraged by her mother and older sister to partake in such activities and instead was told she must accept her lot in life to marry and become a wife & mother or join a convent. When Florence is threatened by the French army, she is forced to make a decision about her future. She decides to marry and although her marriage is not an unhappy one, it is not what she expected either. (I won't spoil it for those who haven't read this book yet.) Life then takes some very interesting turns! NOTE: Don't skip the prologue...there is stuff in there you don't want to miss!

This book fascinated me in so many ways! Some of you might already know about my love for strong heroines. I'm not necessarily a feminist per say, but I do love to read about women who are empowered and not afraid to take charge and such is this character. Even at a young age (she was about 14 when the book began if I remember correctly), she was so much more than most of the other female characters in the book. She relished in the fact that she was intelligent and artistic and passionate! And to complicate matters, she was all this in the 1400's, where a woman's role in life was perceived to be very different from what you and I are used to.

When we look back at some of the important figures of the Renaissance or Middle Ages, what is the ONE common denominator? Most of them are MEN! What happened to the women? What were they doing? How were their lives affected by the times they lived in? Women were less valuable so we know less about them, but they lived nonetheless! It was a woman who gave birth to some of the most fascinating men in history. It was a woman who was locked away in a convent because a man "couldn't keep it in his pants". It was a woman who had to endure punishment simply because of the sex.

I admire Sarah for her commitment to teaching us about the importance of these women, what they had to endure and to truly appreciate how far we've come!

If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it!


  1. I've had The Birth of Venus on my wish list for some time now...I really need to read it!

  2. I am now reading Sacred Hearts and I love it. Once I start reading it I can't put it down.


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