The Venetian

The Venetian

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Longlisted for the EUROPEAN BOOK PRIZE 2012

Author: Lina Ellina more info

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LONGLISTED FOR THE EUROPEAN BOOK PRIZE 2012

A Renaissance-era Venetian mystery unravels through the deft fingertips of debut author Lina Ellina in this Cyprus story-within-an Italian story, linking present day characters to history’s most romantic intrigues.

A king’s wedding and a present day chef’s holiday are interwoven beautifully as details emerge about an intergenerational connection as delicate and rare as the Italian and Cypriot landscapes that form the backdrop for this literary rumination on life, love, food, and fellowship.

If you enjoyed This Most Amazing, The Lowland, or the best-selling The Shoemaker’s Wife, try THE VENETIAN.

 

Readers say:

“I bought this book hoping it would become my one week holiday companion… and read half of it on the plane in less than 4 hours!” – Victoria

“The book deftly weaves their two unpredictable stories together, all the while giving the reader the chance to experience Cyprus’ rich culture, sights, smells and sounds.” – Maria C.

“An engrossing novel where East meets West and the present meets the past” – Natalie

“This novel is a love story, a travel guide, and a history textbook, all three masterfully put together under one cover” – Michelle M.

“Two love stories, one set in 1467 and the other in 2010, in which the reader invests emotionally and wants to keep reading and see how the problems will be solved and obstacles overcome.” – Dean K.

“One of the best romance novels I have read. Very well researched and a very clever literary travel guide to Cyprus.” – Katerina H.

“Historical fiction at its finest.” H. Jones

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LONGLISTED FOR THE EUROPEAN BOOK PRIZE 2012

As of 2014, this historical fiction is part of the Hellenic Program of Columbia University in New York.

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Read an Excerpt

Preface

The Lusignan Period (1192-1489) was perhaps Cyprus’ most illustrious epoch. An island rich in resources, at the crossroads of three continents between Occident and Orient, Cyprus was one of the most popular meeting places for trading European products for those from the East – especially during the papal embargo that prohibited Christians from trading in Muslim ports. As one Christian stronghold after another fell into Muslim hands in the Eastern Mediterranean basin, the kingdom of Cyprus attained an unprecedented position of influence and importance, given its small size, particularly during the first two hundred years of the Lusignan dynasty. Cypriots, the majority of whom were degraded to serfdom, however, had little – if any – share in the newfound prosperity.

When in 1367, Peter I, the King of Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Armenia, made a tour through European capitals in search of support against the looming hazard of a massive military offensive by the Muslims, his fellow sovereigns accepted him with honors but provided no useful aide. The Doge of Venice, Marco Cornaro, and his very wealthy cousin, Federico, privately funded the king’s request. This move redounded to their acquiring rich estates in the Episkopi peninsula, near Limassol, along the south coast of the island. It also inaugurated a long-lasting relationship between the Cornaro and the Lusignan families. It was a twist of fate, perhaps, that the last monarch in the Lusignan dynasty was not a Frank per se but a Venetian who bore the name of Cornaro.

With the loss of Famagusta, the mainstay of the island’s economy, to the Genoese and the Mameluke attacks that resulted in an annual tribute to the Sultan of Egypt and drained the kingdom’s treasury, Lusignan’s ability to exercise control over all aspects of public life declined rapidly in the fifteenth century. The highlight of John II’s reign (1432-1458), which was marked by dissension and intrigue, was his marriage to Elena Palaeologina, the Byzantine emperor’s granddaughter. Queen Elena, a great heroine for the Cypriots and a dangerous enemy of the Franks, was stronger in character than her husband and took over the management of the kingdom, bringing Greek Orthodox faith and culture out of the oblivion in which it had languished after centuries of persecution.

In 1456, their daughter, Princess Charlotte, married Prince John of Coimbra who had been chosen by the Latin Church as Queen Elena’s rival. Friction soon broke out, and the prince took his wife away from the palace. Forthwith, the Knights Hospitaller, religious enemies of the queen, rebelled against her, causing fractious incidents in Nicosia that escalated into a violent affray. In reprisal, the queen’s trusted Royal Chamberlain incited the people to rise up against the prince, who was found dead a few days later. Seeking vengeance, Charlotte turned to her half-brother James, the king’s illegitimate son with Marietta from Patras, for assistance. James, who was only seventeen at the time and already the titular Archbishop of Nicosia, murdered the Royal Chamberlain. In an effort to repress potential uprisings and restore peace, the king deprived his son of the archbishopric. Fearing the queen’s rage, James absconded to Rhodes only to return five months later and kill several of his enemies in one night.

In 1458, both the queen and the king died within three months of each other, and Charlotte ascended the throne. James swore allegiance to his half-sister, but his enemies persuaded the queen that he was conniving to assassinate her. Fearing for his life, James fled to the Sultan of Egypt, a move that was interpreted as an imminent threat by the nobles in Charlotte’s Court. In 1459, Charlotte married the Duke of Savoy, and envoys were sent to the sultan to ensure his support. The sultan, however, decided in favor of James who returned to Cyprus followed by supporters and Mamelukes. People’s approval constantly grew, and soon, only Kyreneia, Charlotte’s seat, and Famagusta, ruled by the Genoese, resisted him. Charlotte fled Cyprus in quest of allies; nevertheless, her endeavors were to no avail. Eventually, Kyreneia capitulated in 1463.

When Andrea Cornaro, the Doge’s grandson, was accused of an alleged election scam in 1457, Marco Cornaro failed to denounce his younger brother, and the two were banished to Cyprus. On the one hand, this gave them the opportunity to fully devote themselves to their family enterprises and multiply their wealth. On the other hand, they were flirting with disgrace, and Marco’s political career was bruised. In the war of succession following the death of King John II, the Cornaro brothers shifted their aid from the lawful heiress to the king’s illegitimate son.

In 1464, James drove the Genoese out of Famagusta and united the whole island once again into a single kingdom. His prevailing was partly due to Andrea Cornaro’s support. In return, the young king appointed the preeminent Venetian patrician, who acted as his banker, his counselor and Auditor of the Kingdom. Notwithstanding his becoming the unquestionable ruler of Cyprus, the crown felt heavy on the young king’s head. With the threat of an invasion by the Ottoman Turks hanging over his kingdom like the sword of Damocles, James II, or the Bastard, promptly recognized the urgent need for a strong alliance. Marriage appeared to be an attractive means to this end.

The Cornaro brothers had great plans for the king’s marriage and their own future, but very few men in Venice were let in on them. Cavalier Marco Cornaro’s trusty friend and cousin, Captain Alexandro Zanetti, was one of them. With Andrea now in Nicosia and Marco, who on occasions accomplished delicate diplomatic missions on behalf of the new king, back in Venice, and the recent death of their estate supervisor, the two brothers saw the need for a trustworthy man to run their family sugar mill and their large estates in their absence. They originally thought they had found this man in the person of their loyal cousin Alexandro, but he persuaded them to place their faith in his son Marin who would be equally devoted to them. What he might have lacked in experience, he would make up for with his enterprising spirit and diligence.

Venice, 1467

Marin had a sleepless night anticipating the world of adventure that awaited him at dawn. His father, captain of a commercial galley and distant cousin of Cavaliers Marco and Andrea Corner, or better known in history as Cornaro, had arranged for twenty-one-year-old Marin to join Andrea in Cyprus. The young man had been traveling with the captain for several years now, but this voyage would be like no other. A new life full of prospects lay ahead if he were vigilant and scrupulous. His father’s words ‘Anything’s possible if you use your brain and work hard’ echoed in his ears.

At the first light of dawn, Marin put on his white wide-sleeved, low neckline linen shirt that was decorated with embroidery. He put on his hip-length tight-fitting Glaucous blue doublet that matched the color of his eyes. It belted at the waist, giving the impression of a short skirt below which was fashionable among the young men of his time. Its sleeves were full and puffy. Wearing a self-satisfied grin, he looked in the mirror at the long attenuated appearance his tight hose and thigh-boots gave him and smoothed his jet-black hair. Marin’s good looks had often won him young women’s affection in all ports of call.

He closed his trunk, donned his short gown, and picked up his hat. He cast one last glance around his chamber and looked out the window at the torrent and the lightning that lit up the threatening dark grey January sky for a fleeting moment. The water had risen perilously, and Venice seemed to be once more on the threshold of a deluge.

He told his servant to carry his trunk along with his father’s to the gondola tied up in the canal outside the house and slid into a seat at the breakfast table in the kitchen. He ignored the spicy ginger chicken and nibbled on some bread and Padua sausage, washing it down with some ale. His mother asked a female servant to wake the children to bid their father and their brother farewell and sat at the table. It was a brief breakfast where words were best left unspoken whenever they were sailing to faraway lands.

When Marin got up to leave the table, his mother walked up to him. The fringed sleeves of her long burgundy velvet dress swished as she put her arms around him. She hid her face on his chest and bravely fought back the tears in her eyes. She then lifted her head and kissed him on the forehead.

“Make me proud, Marin!”

It was not her place to tell her husband not to travel in this weather or to cry out that she didn’t want her eldest son sent so far away from her. If there was anyone who understood her just by laying his eyes on her it was Marin. For years after giving birth to Marin, Anna Zanetti couldn’t conceive, and she had fully devoted herself to the upbringing of her only child in the long periods of her husband’s absence. She had no doubt that the captain, for whom she had the greatest esteem on account of his integrity, loved his wife, but he was a bit rough around the edges.

“Haven’t I always?” Marin asked.

His mother nodded, and the young man offered her a tender smile. He hated to think how long it would take before he saw his mother again. So many thoughts and emotions he wanted to share with her, but now was not the time. Instead, he kissed her on both cheeks and stepped outside discreetly to give his parents some privacy for their parting.

The night before, he had inadvertently overheard his mother pleading with his father to search out a farm in the countryside. His mother had been asking her husband to settle down for some time now, but that was the first time his father had consented – even if vaguely. “Soon,” flabbergasted Marin heard him promise. His father’s love had been the sea, or so he thought. Never had he envisioned the intrepid captain tied down to the land. The young man pondered how one’s life can take an entirely different course on account of a single decision.

Rovigo, 2010

Casually attired in his light khaki chino pants and steel blue dress shirt that matched his Glaucous blue eyes, Lorenzo Zanetti stretched his long, muscular legs, put one over the other, and flipped the page of Il Gazettino di Rovigo to the soft sound of Pavarotti’s stentorian voice. He cast a quick glance at the blooming wisterias in the garden and then at the pendulum clock in the corner of the rustic kitchen as it chimed, and flashed a smile at Paola, his four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who was just finishing her breakfast.

“Is my angel ready for kindergarten?”

“Yes, daddy. I’ll go get my bag.” The little wide-eyed girl with freckles and a lustrous golden-blonde ponytail climbed down the chair and removed her plate from the table.

“Run along now.”

Lorenzo pushed his spectacles further up the bridge of his sculpted Roman nose and hid his chiseled face behind the newspaper once more. An article on the upcoming twinning of Comune di Rovigo in Italy with the Municipality of Famagusta in Cyprus caught his attention. He had never been particularly interested in politics, but Famagusta, the stage for Shakespeare’s Othello, had always been associated with the family legend of Marin Zanetti, the family benefactor, one of his enterprising ancestors in the fifteenth century, who had purportedly come into great wealth by doing business on the island.

“Come on, daddy. Let’s go! I don’t want to be late,” Paola interrupted his thoughts a couple of minutes later. She was standing in the corridor with her arms folded in front of her chest, tapping her right foot, wondering what was taking him so long.

“Coming, angel.”

Lorenzo removed his reading glasses and placed them on the coffee table next to him. He folded the newspaper, took one last sip of his cappuccino, and wetted his full lips. He grabbed his keys and his cell phone and had a look at his virile reflection and the touch of silver on his temples in the mirror, as he smoothed his thick jet-black hair that he kept neatly cut above his ears.

He took Paola by the hand and walked her to the car still thinking of his ancestor. He helped her with the child car seat and got behind the wheel. As he was steering the car onto the road, a bizarre idea sprang to mind. What if he were to search for Marin? His chance of finding his trail was probably one in a billion, but at least, the quest might add some spice to his otherwise monotonous life since Beth’s tragic death.

Larnaca International Airport, 2010

“Cut. Again! I know you are tired. We all are, but smile, ladies, smile!” the director shooting a commercial said faking a smile, and the models dressed up as flight attendants walked past the check-in counters toward the cameras for the twentieth time that day.

In front of check-in counter 62, Madame Lanvin embraced Marina and kissed her three times in the usual French way. “So this is it! Goodbye, Marina, and thanks again for the wonderful tours. We truly enjoyed our stay in Cyprus.”

Monsier Lanvin bent down to give five-foot-five Marina a farewell hug, too. “Merci beaucoup, Marina. You have made our vacation so memorable that we are thinking of coming back next year.”

“That would be great,” replied the young woman with the winsome, girlish face framed with rich dark brown curls. “I really wish we could meet again. I had a wonderful time, too… So I guess this is it then. Here’s where I wish you a safe flight back home. Drop a line if you have time. I’d love to hear from you.”

Mais, bien sûr! And so should you. Au revoir, Marina.”

Au revoir.

Marina straightened her fitted crimson blouse, the fashionable color of that spring, which lit up her facial features, and waited until their baggage was weighed and they went through passport control to ensure they wouldn’t run into any difficulty. She waved at them one last time and headed back to the parking lot. A glance at her watch made her change her slow pace to brisk strides.

——–
Author Q&A

A minute with Lina Ellina Manager of the Olive Park Oleastro

Interview in Cyprus Mail 

Where do you live?
In Anogyra with my husband

Best childhood memory?
Family Sunday trips to locations in Cyprus

What food is your real favourite?
Any meal that has been prepared with love and gusto.

What did you have for breakfast?
Pecorino cheese, hiromeri and red grapes

Would you class yourself as a day or night person? What’s your idea of the perfect night/day out?
When it comes to work, I’m a morning person. When it comes to writing, I get inspired at night.

Best book ever read?
The Chronicle of Leontios Mahairas. It inspired me to write about medieval Cyprus. My first novel, the historical fiction, The Venetian, was shortlisted for the European Book Prize 2012. I’m now finishing my second, also a historical fiction, entitled, The Scholar’s Ring.

Favourite film of all time?
There is no single one

Best holiday ever taken?
Culinary discovery of Europe – the richness of its history, architecture etc.

What music are you listening to in the car at the moment?
Pavarotti

What is always in your fridge?
Pecorino cheese and hiromeri

Dream house: rural retreat or urban dwelling? Where would it be, what would it be like?
I am lucky enough to live in my dream house on a hill in Anogyra overlooking the Avdimou bay on the right and Episkopi bay on the left

If you could pick anyone at all (alive or dead) to go out for the evening with, who would it be?
Socrates – I would love to have a conversation with him

If the world is ending in 24 hours what would you do?
Spend it with my family

What is your greatest fear?
That I might not be able to care for my needs when I grow old, so I try hard to keep a healthy mind in a healthy body.

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