The Scarlet City: A Novel of 16th-Century Italy

Hella S. Haasse, Author, Anita Miller, Translator Academy Chicago Publishers $22.95 (367p) ISBN 978-0-89733-349-8
This frustrating historical novel, first published in Holland in 1952, opaquely treats the early 16th century: the machinations of papal and imperial forces have divided all of Italy into scheming factions, and mercenary soldiers gather to sack Rome. Haasse ( In a Dark Wood Wandering ) chooses a nonlinear approach: various historical figures alternately narrate a series of complicated events. A bastard bearing the Borgia name diarizes his fruitless search for the identity of his parents; Niccolo Machiavelli and Francesco Guicciardini exchange letters; among the other literati heard from are Pietro Aretino and Vittoria Colonna. This structure bleeds the narrative of its intrinsic drama: critical episodes invariably take place offstage, characters enter and exit abruptly, and the single-minded concerns of the individual protagonists overshadow the central action. Those who don't know much about this thorny patch of history will be thoroughly adrift; on the other hand, anyone familiar with even a snippet of the works of the figures incarnated here will chafe at Haasse's shallow and simplistic interpretations. 50,000 first printing; BOMC and History Book Club alternates. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/1990
Release date: 10/01/1990
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-89733-372-6
Open Ebook - 368 pages - 978-1-61373-453-7
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