The Venice Sketchbook by Rhys Bowen

Rhys Bowen’s newest is another skillfully told, impeccably researched tale of World War II.  A tale in which wartime secrets come to light 60 years later.

Bowen’s forte is creating a sense of place and time. The city of Venice really is the main character- the book comes to vivid life when Juliet and Caroline arrive in Venice. The reader, through the wanderings of these two women – separated by generations –  comes to know its labyrinthian  canals and bridges.  Water (tides and rain and waterways) dictate when, how and where one goes in any given moment. More than once, boat and bridge accidents illustrate the danger of living on a watery lagoon.

Juliet travels to Italy as a teenager, then as a teacher and finally as an art student in 1938. When Juliet dies in 2001, her great-niece travels to Venice just after 9-11.  Caroline’s aunt gives her a sketchbook and  keys and points her in the direction of her beloved city.

Juliet’s maturity and self-discovery is defined by her growing knowledge of Italian and  the Venetian dialect as well as her ability to traverse the lagoons and canals.  Her encounters with other students, teachers, and  patrons of the arts are a highlight and offer a glimpse into the art world of the time.  Their camaraderie  is shadowed by the news coming out of Poland and Germany. The sorrow and tragedy of the war is made made personal when we see how it affects one city – its people and those who’ve made their way to Venice and its priceless treasures.

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