REVIEW: Primavera by Mary Jane Beaufrand
Dear Mrs. Beaufrand,
Ah, the Italian Renaissance. A time of great thinking, great art, major political struggles and few freedoms for women. This book harkens back to my early historical fiction reading and my love of the works of great artists of the day. You would not believe the number of coffee table books I own about the latter. Though written and described as a YA book, I feel that “Primavera” has much to offer the adult romance reader.
Told in first person by Lorenza “Flora” Pazzi, the book has an intense “you are there” feel. I could see the flower filled courtyard garden young Flora had spent years working on, feel her fear of the vicious guards brought to the Pazzi palazzo by the oily coconspirator of her scheming father, imagine the over abundance of decoration her social climbing mother crowded the family home with and finally feel the terror young Flora faces when her father’s plotting goes horribly wrong.
I feel fairly comfortable with Flora as a narrator. She seems to be honest about herself and others. Her means of discovering things which she would not normally be party to make sense and I remember few if any “later I found out that” moments being used to convey knowledge she would not have had at the time. I thought you adequately covered the intensely complex politics of the day as well as the feelings that these people would have had about social issues and their families.
Thank you for not making her a preternaturally wise or benevolent narrator either. She’s young and despite being treated as a servant by most of her family, she’s still very protected and cosseted – something Emilio points out to her more than once. Her wake up call is shocking, violently so, and absolute. She will never forget what happens to her family and their supporters, her close calls with death and how she was forced out of her childhood paradise. I notice she appears determined to pass on her wisdom to her children. Brava.
The romance is delicately hinted at throughout the book but it takes Flora’s mature prospective to see the facts that were under her nose all along. It made sense to me that a fourteen year old might miss them given her age and the other life shattering events occurring around her.
The book is filled with details about life in Florence during the Renaissance but none felt clunky or dropped in. I especially enjoyed the number of Italian phrases and words cleverly worked into the narrative. In the beginning I did notice a few modern sounding phrases such as “don’t get me wrong” which were really jarring. Later either these stopped or I was too involved in the story to catch them. And I did get very involved, only planning to read about half the book before going to sleep and ending up devouring the entire thing.
Since I love the work of Botticelli, I was delighted at the role he played in the book and the opportunity to study his paintings a little. I’m still attempting to discover which Madonna painting is mentioned in “Primavera” but of course there’s no doubt about the painting of the same name. I looked up some of the various interpretations as to its meaning including the one you wove into the story.
I did notice one issue that I must question. Flora mentions smelling almonds at various times in the novel all of which tie into her grandmother’s use of poisons. But in Nonna’s letter to her, mention is made of arsenic. Arsenic is flavorless and would act much too slowly for the instance early in the story involving the guard. Okay it’s not a deal breaker but given how much attention you paid to details I was surprised to see this.
I also feel I need to mention the level of violence. Though it is entirely appropriate due to the subject matter and time and place in history, it’s not for the faint of heart. However, in terms of what’s seen in modern movies and video games, it’s probably not any worse than most teenagers have been exposed to many times. The information on the back cover states the book is for ages 12 and up while at amazon the reading level is grade 9-12 (ages 15-18). I would go with the higher level.
“Primavera” is smart, fast-paced and well written. I’m glad I didn’t let the YA label put me off reading it (nothing against YA, I just haven’t read much of it). I think readers will learn much about Renaissance Florence and enjoy watching Flora finally find her happiness. B