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This long-awaited final novel in the bestselling Grazia dei Rossi Trilogy follows Grazia dei Rossi’s only son, Danilo del Medigo, as he returns to the Republic of Venice at the height of Christendom’s persecution of the Jews.
April, 1536. Danilo del Medigo arrives incognito in Venice from Istanbul, with two assassins hot on his trail. Western civilization is in crisis. Jews and “New Christians” — people whose families had converted from Judaism — are threatened with expulsion, imprisonment, and death. Danilo seeks refuge in the Venetian Ghetto, and promptly falls in love with the beautiful Miriamne Hazan.
But soon Danilo is blackmailed into becoming a spy for Venice, which means he must abandon Miriamne in order to save her. The only safe place is hiding in plain sight, so embeds himself within an itinerant group of actors travelling the Italian countryside. With assassins close behind, Danilo, together with a cast of libertines, courtesans, and fellow spies, witnesses the agony of the Renaissance: Protestants warring with Catholics, the Inquisition threatening everyone, and the Ottoman Empire poised to invade the heart of Europe. As fear and panic spread throughout the Jewish communities of Italy, a promise of a new lifeline emerges, and Danilo may be the only one who can ensure it.
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He kept checking over his shoulder to see if he was being followed. Anything could be an ambush. Two men, arm in arm, were strolling along. As he watched them, they were greeted by friends coming out of a doorway. Not assassins, then. To his knowledge, when the Men in Black were sent on a mission they never gave up until it was accomplished. So, yes, they would return.
He took a gondola to well beyond the Rialto Bridge, and got off, walked down an alleyway, then doubled back, and, followed another alleyway — a calle — this one parallel to the Grand Canal — until he came to the mansion that was the home of the famous courtesan.
It was an old and distinguished-looking building. Candles burned in the windows. He turned into a side alley and walked down it until he came to a door. A single small lamp, a votive offering to the Virgin Mary, burned over the entrance. A tall broad-shouldered man stood next to the door. He looked Danilo up and down and nodded. Danilo entered and went up a narrow wooden staircase, and when he stepped through a door he found himself on a large landing with a marble balustrade, large windows overlooking the Grand Canal, tapestries, and marble flooring. Everything was sparkling and impeccable, as if the whole setting had been installed only that morning. Several fashionable Venetian youths were hanging about on the landing gossiping and laughing but they did not bother with him, only giving him a cursory glance and then returning to their skittish talk.
A very pretty, very young maidservant, in a tight bodice with a flared skirt, was coming up the stairs; she nodded at Danilo, held his gaze, and whispered, “Follow me, sir!” She led him further up the broad torch-lit staircase to the second floor.
When they entered the main salon, Danilo was dazzled by the sumptuous carpets, the tapestries, the paintings, the gold and silver, the opulent furniture, the gilded mirrors.
“Ah, here you are!” An elegant young woman turned away from the window and greeted him as if they were old friends. She was perhaps twenty-two or twenty-three. Her manners, self-assurance, and sophistication made her seem older; the freshness of her beauty made her seem younger. She was standing by a tall window that looked over the canal. Her red hair tumbled freely down her bare shoulders, her breasts barely concealed, her long robe open along one side, exposing a length of perfect leg, sparkling white, in silk. She looked at him with an amused, calculating expression.
“You are a handsome fellow, my friend. So, we are to work together.”
Danilo bowed. “Madam.”
“And gallant, too!” She favored him with the brightest of smiles. “I am indeed pleased. My name is Veronica Libero. My work is to give pleasure — sensual, sexual, intellectual, and cultural. The quality of the conversation is essential. People must relax. They must feel free to express themselves. My clientele is varied — but on the whole, it consists, with a few necessary and unfortunate exceptions, of the very best of society. Many of Venice’s leaders are my friends. I do use the word ‘friend’ with caution. But I think I can say that. So, among the clientele who frequent my little abode, there are also foreigners, German merchants, people who deal with Charles V, some ecclesiastical figures who visit Venice from time to time, several Frenchmen who are close to the Court of François I, and of course Turks and Persians and Arabs.”
“Yes, I see.”
“Now, some of these gentlemen speak languages I don’t understand; we would like very much to know what they are saying, what they are talking about. I understand you speak Turkish, Persian, and Arabic.”
“Yes, madam, I do.”
“Call me Veronica, please.” Her eyes sparkled in merriment. “And who shall you be? Let’s invent someone, shall we? You are … Daniel del Monte!” For her, Danilo realized, life was a game.
He bowed. Now he had three names: David, Daniel, and Danilo. He felt, somehow, that he should kiss her hand. She moved with the fluid ease, casualness, and feigned intimacy of royalty.
“In a few minutes, the visitors will arrive. I will entertain them — as will some of my friends and colleagues. But our guests often speak in their own languages among themselves.”
“And here, let me show you. I do apologize for the indignity of it, but you will be stowed away here, in this closed little alcove.” She pressed against a small decorative detail, and pulled it aside. A door — up to that point invisible — opened and Danilo saw what looked like a padded closet, or perhaps an invisible corridor running parallel to the wall of the salon. A whiff of stale air wafted out.
“I have put in a stool to make it more comfortable.” Veronica turned to him. “You have a good memory, I hope.”
“I believe it is fairly good — ah, Veronica.”
“Would you like a glass of wine?”
“I shall abstain, thank you.”
“Very wise, Daniel, a clear head is essential in this business. Venice is like the Virgin Mary or, if you prefer classical allusions, she is like Aphrodite freshly risen from the sea. She is a gallant lady and she needs to be protected.”
“Venice has many enemies.”
“Yes, and many jealousies. Venice is rich and Venice is a republic, Venice is small, and she belongs to all of us. She has been around a long time — a thousand years at least — and so she deserves our care and solicitude.” She smiled. Her perfume — a heady mixture of jasmine and rose — made Danilo dizzy. The lamps sparkled off the gilt and silver and glass.
Veronica put her hand on Danilo’s shoulder, and gazed straight into his eyes. “I must warn you, my dear Daniel. One of our guests is of a particularly violent temperament. He’s quite brilliant — a Turkish gentleman, Signor Muharrem; he is excessively intelligent and cultured and charming — but he is known to have murdered many a man, and some women, too.”
Danilo held her gaze and nodded.
“He delights in strangling people with his bare hands, and he is adept with a dagger. He must not discover our little game. Even if there is trouble, you are not to intervene. Julian will take care of it.” She nodded towards a tall broad-shouldered man who had been standing against one wall. The man nodded at Danilo. Veronica smiled. “Silence is essential.”
“Here, now I shall lock you in. For a little while, my dear friend, you shall be my prisoner.”
What People are Saying About This
PRAISE FOR JACQUELINE PARK, GILBERT REID, AND SON OF TWO FATHERS“Gilbert Reid is the perfect collaborator on Son of Two Fathers, the final volume of the late Jacqueline Park’s bestselling Grazia dei Rossi trilogy. As Jackie’s friend and collaborator, Reid shared her passion for historical fiction and adds his own deep knowledge of Italian history and culture, while embellishing the story with ribald humour, scandalous intrigue, and page-turning drama.” Sandra Martin, author of A Good Death“A deeply satisfying conclusion to the writing that Park began more than two decades earlier . . . Son of Two Fathers offers readers a great deal. It has many thrilling moments laden with suspense, scalding tension, and unpredicted twists and turns of plot. It also provides thoughtful explorations and mini-dissertations on subjects as diverse as visual art, theatre art, philosophy, political history, and Jewish history. Readers interested in history will enjoy this book. Readers interested in Jewish history will delight in it.” Canadian Jewish News
PRAISE FOR JACQUELINE PARK AND THE LEGACY OF GRAZIA DEI ROSSI: “Delightfully evocative . . . rich in historical detail.” Globe and Mail “Park puts in place the literary pieces that ultimately form a beguiling fiction that is equal part youthful, hotheaded romance, and meticulous, detailed history . . . The book is a feast of concentrated, eye-opening detail.” Canadian Jewish News “Forbidden love, bravery, honour, battle, travel, intrigue, feasting: this book has it all.” National Post Afterword Reading Society
PRAISE FOR JACQUELINE PARK AND THE SECRET BOOK OF GRAZIA DEI ROSSI: “A sprawling historical novel that boasts its research on every page.” Elizabeth Renzetti, Globe and Mail “It is a rich Italian tapestry of human vices and virtues . . . in fact, all the irresistible elements of a fairy tale.” Toronto Star “Possessing a precise eye for detail and a superb sense of time and place, Park has produced a remarkable saga about life during the Renaissance . . . An imaginative work deserving a wide audience.” Winnipeg Free Press “A historical novel with a Renaissance Jewish heroine as captivating as Scarlett O’Hara. Simply irresistible.” Newsday “One is reluctant to close this window on a dramatic chapter of the distant past, or to part company with a woman so full of grace and gumption.” San Francisco Chronicle “Wonderful. An absolutely fascinating, compulsively readable novel about a sixteenth century woman who would be considered outstanding in any era.” Miami Herald “An epic book . . . Park’s picture of the Renaissance is as incandescent as Italy’s frescoes.” Detroit Free Press “Rich and impressive. Park has written a vivid novel of the dawn of modern times. Subtly complex and intensely readable, it is also very wise.” Philadelphia Inquirer “Park has written a superior piece of historical fiction, rich in Renaissance detail.” Dallas Morning News “Subtle and seductive . . . Park has created a lively, courageous, and introspective heroine. Through Grazia, she elucidates the intricate and perilous world of Italian Jews during the Renaissance, telling her spellbinding story with honesty and humour and meticulous historical accuracy.” Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW “An exquisitely crafted evocation of Renaissance Italy. An engrossing and illuminating chronicle of one woman’s lifelong quest to maintain a delicate balance between faith and expediency.” Booklist “The splendour and tumult of the Italian Renaissance live con brio in this page-turning tale . . . A story as rich as Raphael’s tapestries . . . A genuine Renaissance woman memorably struts her stuff in a first novel that consummately mixes fact and fancy. Historical fiction at its best.” Kirkus Reviews