A Tabernacle for the Sun, by Linda Proud, is a historical novel set in 1472-1478, the time of Lorenzo de' Medici, ruler of Florence, Italy, and it takes place in Volterra, Rome and Florence, Italy. It is available as a trade paperback, of 490 pages, divided into 5 'books', representing 5 phases of the fictional narrator's early life, Tommaso de' Maffei. It is also available as a Kindle (mobi) e-book.
Historical novels have an appeal over history books, because they bring dry history to life through characters who speak directly to us and allow us to enter their hearts and heads. The historical novel allows us to be a fly-on-the-wall during fascinating moments in times long past. Ms. Proud's novel does this through her fictional, first-person narrator, Tommaso de' Maffei, who grows from child to young man in the course of this novel, and we follow him along through his adventures.
The book cover features one of Botticelli's Portrait of a Young Man painting. It appears to be the physical inspiration for the fictional Tommaso character. Most of the other major characters in the book are based on real people from the Italian Renaissance, and the author stays very close to history in their depiction and the description of events.
To be honest, while reading the book, I couldn't help thinking of Forrest Gump, the fictional book/film character who was inserted into many of the key moments of U.S. popular culture from the past few decades. In the same way, Tommaso de' Maffei is present at many of the key moments of de' Medici history. But Tommaso sees and speaks with the knowledge of a mature man looking back on his life, as he writes his story in 1500 for his fellow humanist-intellectual, Erasmus of Rotterdam. This narrative device creates another layer of interest for the history-loving reader.
The seeds of humanist, neo-Platonic study planted in Florence during the early years of the de' Medici influence, blossomed in later years, and eventually became a threat to the Catholic church. Through Tommaso, we get a glance at the origins of the New Learning as well as where that New Learning lead.
Ms. Proud is a fluid writer who has a highly developed skill of putting herself in her character's shoes. Her detailed descriptions of life in Volterra, Florence and Rome make you wonder if perhaps she didn't live there in a previous life in years gone by.
I especially enjoyed her descriptions when Tommaso, a young boy who has known only life in the rustic hill town of Volterra, goes to Florence for the first time. Through her narrator, but with her own reflective and intuitive perspective, Ms. Proud paints a picture of Florence that the reader will never forget. Tommaso even comments at one point that:
It makes your buttocks ache walking on flat ground all the time.
If you are not familiar with Volterra, here is a lovely 2 minute video postcard of the town.
And later, when his calves hurt after a short run up a hill in Florence, Tommaso reflects that he has adapted more than he realized to life in Florence, and not just physically.
Even if you have been to Volterra and Florence and toured all there is to see (which is a difficult feat), you will find yourself seeing the towns with a new perspective, thanks to Ms. Proud's highly reflective views on churches, artworks, houses and even streets.
The author is also clearly a student of music, which adds another dimension to her description of Renaissance life. Music was part of the New Learning. Music was a part of art, architecture, design, education and mathematics. Ms. Proud manages to integrate music into learning in a way that one wishes were done today. It might inspire more students!
The novel puts the reader in the period and guides the reader through interesting times and challenging ideas. The story, as told by Tommaso de' Maffei, is suitable for young adult readers as well as adult readers. A Tabernacle for the Sun is a wonderful book for those who wish to learn more about the fascinating time of the Italian Renaissance, and for those who wish their knowledge of that time to be placed in a novel setting, bringing it to life. If you know the history, don't expect surprises, but do expect to see it through new eyes.
Ms. Proud continues the story with two books that make up her Botticelli Trilogy, and one book is a prequel:
- A Gift for the Magus
- A Tabernacle for the Sun
- Pallas and the Centaur
- The Rebirth of Venus
Amazon Links for the Trilogy:
Please visit the author's website.
This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.