Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lots of Art, Religion, But Little Romance--"The Miracle of Prato"

The Miracles of Prato tells the story of Lucrezia Buti, a young woman who has just entered a convent against her wishes in 15th Century Prato, a town outside of Florence. Lucrezia's family had fallen on hard times, so she has been denied the marriage she always dreamed of and has to become a nun instead. Soon after entering the convent, a depressed Lucrezia catches the eye of Fra Fillipo, the convent's chaplain, and a famous monk-painter. Fillipo is intrigued by her beauty, and--seeing her as his new Madonna--asks her to model for him. The two quickly fall in love, and marry in secret after Lucrezia is the victim of a terrible crime. But what will the Church do, allow the monk and young nun a life together, or take it away? 

Despite an excellent subject and a strong start, The Miracles of Prato fell a little flat for me. The authors do an excellent job of capturing the atmosphere of a small convent in Italy in the 15th century, and the art they describe is beautiful. But the characters that populate this beautiful world are extremely one dimensional, and they react to their situations in a consistently helpless fashion. I know I may be a modern reader imposing my views of the past, but I like my historical romance with a bit of spunk and passion, which is lacking in Miracles. Instead, the novel is full of stereotypes, from the greedy man at the head of the church to the fallen virgin who is still a repentant angel. Although the novel is in part based on fact, these flat representations make it feel unbelievable. 

Although I didn't love this book overall, there were parts that were enjoyable, full of beautiful settings and scenes. It gives you a real feel for church life in Italy, and the struggles of young women at the time. I would recommend this book to fans of the Renaissance period in Italy, or students of art history, with a warning about the characters.

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