Thank you to Kim Nash of Bookouture for providing me with a kindle copy of this book. I very much appreciate it!
This is a beautiful historical fiction novel, and one which I enjoyed a lot.
Loosely based on real historical people, the novel features two love triangles – one set in Pisa in 1171 between Berta di Bernardo, a rich merchant’s wife, her young lover Gerardo di Gerardo, and her maid and Gerardo’s secret love, Aurelia. The other occurs in the 1990s, between Sam, who is a married mother, her ailing husband Michael and an Italian man named Dario who helps her with a project on the Tower of Pisa.
They are not just merely fluffy love triangles, however – their stories affect and reflect the deeply important work that the individuals are undertaking. Berta falls deeply in love with Gerardo, a young man who strives to follow in his architect grandfather’s footsteps, and the fiery, dominant woman manages to get him his dream job helping to build a magnificent campanile – The Leaning Tower of Pisa. But although Gerardo loves Berta in a way, he is deeply in love with Aurelia and yet cannot find a way out of his predicament: Berta essentially commissioned the Tower project and if he can’t keep her happy he will lose his dream job.
In the present day, Michael is working on a documentary about the history of the tower and the story of its construction, but when he flies out to Italy after confessing to having had an affair, he has a stroke which renders his work incomplete. Having worked in film and TV in a previous life, Sam steps up to the plate and takes over the project, and with the help of Dario whom she meets in Italy she begins to uncover the truth behind the amazing building: the mysterious BB who funded the project and the men around her who received the credit.
I loved Sam’s character and her strength despite being under severe stress and having been heartbroken by her husband. She shows determination and it is mostly borne out of her craving an identity and profession that she lost when she had children. This contrasts nicely with Berta’s story – a woman living in an age when a woman couldn’t realistically have a career and is also unable to have children. How can both women influence what is going on around them? And why is the Tower so vitally important to both of them and the men in their lives?
Berta is an interesting character. For the most part I found her bratty and unlikeable, but I can’t deny that she is impressive in her power and her determination. She also shows a compassionate side which peaks out every now and again and takes you by surprise. Aurelia I found to be charming but a bit whiny, but this just accurately reflects her age and the situation she finds herself in.
The novel is written beautifully, with such vivid imagery that makes you feel like you’re really in Pisa in 1171, and also in the 1990s. The contrast in time periods works really well. This book is a great read!