Author Gina Buonaguro and I had a great time talking about Women in History at The History Quill conference in February 2022 (see here and here for details). Gina’s work on her just-released novel, The Virgins of Venice, was the catalyst for this presentation. I’m delighted to have Gina share a bit of her motivation for that story and how it resonates with today.
The Virgins of Venice: Girls Growing Up by Gina Buonaguro
“History never repeats itself, but it does rhyme.” – Mark Twain
Perhaps my love for the historical fiction genre began with the Little House on the Prairie books and TV show. What did I love so much about Little House? Partly it was about a girl my age. Partly it was the storylines about school and home, family life and siblings, chores and responsibilities, and living within a community where people did not always agree. I didn’t need to muck out a barn, but I was expected to weed and mow the lawn. I had my own Nellie Olesen types to contend with. My dad called me by affectionate nicknames. In other words, I could identify with Laura, and perhaps in my child’s mind, I felt that Laura could identify with me. If we had met, we could have been friends. Not only that, but the show in particular dealt with issues that have been around a long time and sadly still are: poverty, addiction, homelessness, medical crises, and racism. In other words, Little House highlighted the commonalities between yesterday and today while being truthful to its era.
It is such universal themes and approachable characters that allow historical novels to resonate with modern readers. For instance, during the Covid pandemic, I read The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donaghue, which takes place in an Irish maternity ward during the Spanish Flu. The storyline reminds readers how such pandemics have been occurring since time immemorial. People during plagues throughout history always had to contend with fear, isolation and quarantine, mask wearing, quack cures, curtailment of movement and rights (such as they were in the past), and illness and death. All you have to do is read Boccaccio’s 14th-century Decameron for further confirmation of such common themes. (This episode of the podcast The History of Literature is a good primer of that work.)
My new novel The Virgins of Venice, released on December 13, 2022 by HarperAvenue, is set in 1509 and chronicles two teenage sisters whose lives are determined by their father: one will marry while the other will become a nun. While girls today in the Western world generally don’t face such extreme strictures, they still must contend with growing up, coping with the world, interacting with family, friends, enemies, and lovers, grappling with puberty and emerging sexuality, and figuring out the role of religion and what meanings they want to make of their lives in their own particular circumstances. And girls outside of the West today may indeed face these very choices, particularly childhood marriage. My goal was to write a coming-of-age story (although definitely not YA), to get inside the mind of a 16-year-old girl – what would she think then and now? How different would it be – and how similar? Could I be friends with her? Could she be friends with Laura Ingalls? What would we all have in common, even now? Lessons, literature, love – not that much has changed, these echoes and loops of human and in particular female emotions.
The very best historical fiction being written today – the novels with the most in-depth research through which filters a very true story, even if fictional – illuminates for readers the ability to survive, to endure, to grow up, to be okay. Such novels underscore the common truths of humanity.
Many thanks, Gina. And best wishes for your new novel. PS – beautiful cover!!
The Virgins of Venice by Gina Buonaguro ~~ In sixteenth-century Venice, one young noblewoman dares to resist the choices made for her
Venice in 1509 is on the brink of war. The displeasure of Pope Julius II is a continuing threat to the republic, as is the barely contained fighting in the countryside. Amid this turmoil, noblewoman Justina Soranzo, just sixteen, hopes to make a rare love marriage with her sweetheart, Luca Cicogna. Her hopes are dashed when her father decides her younger sister, Rosa, will marry in a strategic alliance and Justina will be sent to the San Zaccaria convent, in the tradition of aristocratic daughters. Lord Soranzo is not acting only to protect his family. It’s well known that he is in debt to both his trading partners and the most infamous courtesan in the city, La Diamante, and the pressure is closing in.
After arriving at the convent, Justina takes solace in her aunt Livia, one of the nuns, and in the growing knowledge that all is not strictly devout at San Zaccaria. Justina is shocked to discover how the women of the convent find their own freedom in what seems to her like a prison. But secrets and scandals breach the convent walls, and Justina learns there may be even worse fates for her than the veil, if La Diamante makes good on her threats.
Desperate to protect herself and the ones she loves, Justina turns to Luca for help. She finds she must trust her own heart to make the impossible decisions that may save or ruin them all.
Gina Buonaguro’s latest novel (and her first solo) is The Virgins of Venice, which is being released on December 13, 2022 by HarperCollins. She has coauthored three historical novels: The Sidewalk Artist a dual-timeline story about the Renaissance master Raphael; Ciao Bella, which takes place in Northern Italy in the summer after World War II; and The Wolves of St. Peter’s, a murder mystery set at the time Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Rome. Her website is https://ginabu.com/.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Kobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.