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Vivaldi's Virgins
Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick
by Barbara Quick

The coming of age of Vivaldi's violinist
Barbara Quick's Vivaldi's Virgins is a coming of age story set in 18th century Venice utilizing and transforming a literary form popular during that era. As a violinist, the narrator allows the reader to experience the richness of Vivaldi's music from a perspective unavailable today to modern listeners. Barbara Quick presents a vivid image of 18th century Venice and Vivaldi through the eyes and life of the narrator Anna Maria. An orphan in the cloistered halls of the Ospedale della Pieta, Anna Maria dal Violin has been handpicked at an early age to join the elite musical group within the foundling home and be taught by the maestro Vivaldi. Although cloistered within the Pieta, the reader learns of Venice through those who come to visit the Pieta and through the tours and secret escapes of the curious girls.

Barbara Quick's novel removes the masks so carefully worn by the upper strata of Venice society. Vivaldi is seen through the eyes of his students and musicians. Vivaldi's Virgins is a combination of first person narrative in which Anna Maria tells her life story and an epistolary novel 'a novel told through letters', a genre emerging in popularity during the 18th century. As a disciplinary measure, Sister Laura instructs Anna Maria to write to calm Anna Maria's growing passion. She writes letters to her unknown mother never knowing whether they will be read nor by whom. Anna Maria lies hidden and almost invisible, living behind a grille from the public. Barbara Quick's novel removes the grille and allows the reader to peer inside the life of this 18th century woman who cries out for her mother and makes Vivaldi's genius heard by his public. Anna Maria dal Violin is the body and the violin through which Vivaldi's music is heard. Images of the voice of the violin and the voice of a child's body maturing merge with the search for her mother and her prayers to the Virgin Mother. A special plot twist at the end will delight all readers. This novel will appeal to a wide range of readers: those craving something of literary beauty, Vivaldi and classical music lovers, women wanting to experience history through the eyes of the women who lived it but for whom history rarely relates their story, and anyone wanting to peek into the lesser known history of Venice or music.

My personal reading experience of this book
To my personal delight as a Medieval literature enthusiast, Quick's novel contains one wonderful reference to Dante Alighieri and his letters to Beatrice also written without certainty that they would ever be read by the intended reader. Barbara Quick cites this medieval reference, combining it with the 18th century epistolary novel and modernizes both. Although a reader need no knowledge of these literary traditions to enjoy this novel, the thoroughness of the author's research heightens the reading pleasure.

Vivaldi's Virgins is a five star read, especially for readers looking for a novel more satisfying and memorable than a light read. The historical detail is well researched and the fictional imagination is breathtaking. The poetic language of each sentence is exquisite. Although I am a fast reader, I found myself reading slowly, creeping actually, but pausing on each page to savor its beauty and poetic prose. It has been 17 years since my graduate studies in literature and I thought I had finally conquered my terrible habit of writing in my books. After reading ten pages of Barbara Quick's Vivaldi's Virgins, I broke down and wrote in the book and continued to the end, rereading each line as I underlined. There is a multitude of passages so beautiful that I want to reread them several times.

Publisher: HarperCollins (July 2007)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
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