May 9, 2014

Book Review: The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli

Title: The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli
Paperback published March 3, 2014
Genre: historical fiction
First paragraph: I chew my lower lip while I wait to see my father's gondola catch fire. 
Page 56: I have done my best to stay hidden during daylight hours, observing, waiting - for what, I cannot say. 
A young boy, Luca, has accidentally caused the burning of his family's boat making factory after a fight with his father. He runs off to stay with an old friend, an oar maker, but soon disappears to become a gondolier for a well known artist, ferrying the artist to his various appointments and running errands by boat.

The novel is more than a coming-of-age story set among boat makers and gondoliers in 16th century Venice. It tells how Luca grows up to learn to handle responsibility, gets to know a world outside that of his small town, and falls in love. He discovers an old boat produced by his family in years past and sets out to restore and repair it, improving his boat making skills and working on making his own oars. How he handles misfortune, disappointment, even imprisonment, and how he redeems himself is the crux of the novel.

The setting is detailed and the atmosphere and feel of Venice is well done. We are immersed in the surroundings and lives of Venice's gondoliers and how they handle their boats, the techniques of boat makers and their exacting craft, and the skill needed to make boats of the highest quality boats.

I was captivated by the story and easily slipped into the Venice of the 16th century. The author has artfully woven Luca's story into the historical fabric of the times. I learned a lot about gondolas of the time, the laws of the city regarding boat making, and much more. My objective rating for this fascinating historical novel: 5/5.

Author's Bio:
Laura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, and has taught college-level art history in the US and Europe. Laura is the author of Made in Italy, Made in France, and Made in the Southwest (Rizzoli). The Gondola Maker is her first work of fiction. Visit her at Laura Morelli Facebook Twitter

For a list of other reviews of the book, visit iRead Book Tours
I received a complimentary review copy of the book for this tour.

Here is a Q and A that will tell us more about Laura and her writing.
1. Where are you from?
I grew up on a farm in Georgia. It was a wonderful childhood, climbing trees, riding horses, playing in the barn with cows and chickens, fishing in the lake. There were not many kids around so I learned to be independent. I read everything I could get my hands on; the used bookstore in town was one of my favorite spots. I still remember the smell of it! I always had the idea that I would write books, and I dreamt of writing a novel for as long as I can remember.
How did you start writing?

I was educated as an art historian. Those of us in academia are trained to write in a specialized style that comes across as dry and dull, full of terminology that is inaccessible to all but those of us who spend many years studying the field. In the end, this kind of writing strips out the passion that is so inherent in the arts, even though of course I hold great respect for the rigor of scholarship and those who publish exclusively in academia. Art history is the most fascinating subject in the world!

 I realized that I enjoyed writing for a more general audience and that I had an opportunity to bring art history to a wider audience through my writing. I try to bring both the knowledge as well as the excitement of art history to my readers. I  also try to capture the excitement and passion I felt when I first discovered the history of art. 

3. How did you do research for The Gondola Maker?

The foundational research that went into The Gondola Maker was actually conducted for another book. I didn’t plan it that way! While I was writing Made in Italy, I traveled all over Italy, from the Alps to the islands, talking with contemporary artisans who still practice centuries-old traditions like Murano glass, Florentine leather, Sicilian ceramics, Roman gold smithing, and of course, Venetian gondolas. Over and over, the people I interviewed emphasized how important it was to pass the torch of tradition to the next generation. I began to wonder what would happen—especially centuries ago—if the successor were not able… or willing. The character of the gondola maker and his son began to take shape in my head.

As I began to work on The Gondola Maker, it was an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the primary historical sources about the history of the gondola, the world of the guilds or arti, and Venetian boatmen in Renaissance Venice. Historically, Venetians were well aware of their position in the world and so there are a lot of historical sources from which to draw, although private boatmen and other domestic servants only appear incidentally in the historical record, sometimes in reference to a crime or other infraction.
4. What other books have you written?

I’ve written a series of specialty guidebooks with the goal of leading travelers beyond the tourist traps to discover authentic local traditions and artists, and come home with great treasures in their suitcases. My focus in on cultural immersion through a greater appreciation of art objects and the people who make them.  
5. What are you currently writing?
I am working on revised editions of my books, Made in Italy and Made in France, and am also writing a series of small guides that lead travelers to discover authentic arts in specific cities and regions of Europe. Venice will be the first!

Other relevant information and links:


  1. Sounds like a lovely story! Thanks for sharing, and here's mine: LANDLINE

  2. Sounds like a really fascinating read! I've been really enjoying historical fiction lately so I'll have to go find this one.

  3. Oooooooooooo....this books sounds right up my alley. Will need to check it out. Love historical fiction.

    THANKS for sharing and visiting my blog.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Book Beginnings

  4. This sounds like a fascinating story. I enjoy the combination of fiction and history, and it sounds like this author has done a great job. LOVE the Venice setting!
    Here's the link to my Friday post: MOVING IN.

  5. I think that it is really neat that an art historian would use her knowledge and experience and put it into a work of fiction. The book looks good.

    With that i said I like books to start a bit slowly and thoughtfully so the first sentence of this one seems to be getting into things a little too quickly.

  6. Sounds like a good read!

    Have a great weekend!

  7. I really enjoyed this book and loved learning about boat making. Glad you liked it too!

  8. I really like this one. Luv your Friday56.

  9. This sounds like a very interesting book. Great choice for your "56"!

  10. Catch fire, why???
    Intriguing from the start!

    Happy weekend!

  11. That's certainly a great beginning! Haven't heard of this one before - now I'm intrigued.

  12. Thanks for your great review Harvee. I've been curious about this book. It sounds like one I would enjoy.

  13. I could read this one like now.:)

  14. For a moment, I couldn't remember the meaning of a gondola. I like a Venice setting. The imprisonment, was he imprisoned because of the factory fire?


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