The Glassblower of Murano
by Marina Fiorato
Beautiful Books (UK) 2008
St Martins Press (USA) 2009
I fell in love with mosaics and glassblowing many years ago when I first began reading the history of Constantinople. These were fascinating careers involving the arts outside of painting. Mosaics are my favourite but glassblowing comes a close second and there have been no stories about female glassblowers - until now.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is set in Venice, one of my all time favourite cities (others being Constantinople and Alexandria). Nora Manin has the blood of the glassblowers running in her veins. Her mother is English and her father was Bruno Manin, a Venetian, who died of a heart attack when Nora was just a child.
Nora was born in Venice but raised in England by her mother. Elinor was an art historian. Thus Nora grows up being drawn to glass blowing although she has no idea why. After her marriage breaks down, Nora decides to find her roots and she moves to Venice where she gets a job as a glassblower apprentice on the island of Murano.
Ms Fiorato (the author) does follow the correct immigration process, (which has been a huge nit pick for me in other reviews) and this adds to the story. In Nora's struggles to get through the legal paperwork, she finds the man of her dreams - Alessandro Bardalino.
In Venice we follow Nora as she learns more about glassblowing and as she searches for the story of her ancestor, Corradino Manin. He was also a glassblower on Murano in the 1500s and his speciality was making mirrors. The glassblowers in Venice were virtually kept as prisoners on Murano Island - they could not leave without permission of the ruling Council of Ten. The reason for this was to keep the glass blowers trade a secret in Europe, and to create a monopoly on the sale of glass mirrors and other glass items.
Corradino had an illegitimate daughter and in order to keep his daughter safe, Corradino did the unthinkable - he faked his death and traveled to France, where he passed his knowledge of glass making and blowing to the French, by creating the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
The story switches between past and present, between Corradino and Nora, as Nora tries to find out what happened to Corradino and if he really was a traitor to Venice. A thoroughly enjoyable story.
Marina Fiorato is half-Venetian. She was born in Manchester and raised in the Yorkshire Dales. She is a history graduate of Oxford University and the University of Venice, where she specialized in the study of Shakespeare’s plays as an historical source. After University she studied art and since worked as an illustrator, actress and film reviewer. She also designed tour visuals for rock bands including U2 and the Rolling Stones. She was married on the Grand Canal in Venice and lives in North London with her husband, son and daughter.