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Great historical fiction book to prepare for Italy

Hi everyone any recommendations for historical fiction/novels to take to Italy with me? I’ve read all of Sarah Dunant books! Thank you!!

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1106 posts

The Winds of War has a lot about Siena, including the Palio. It’s a great book regardless of the run up to WWII.

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280 posts

Tim Parks has a number of books about living in Italy. They are current, but a great read to get a feel for Italy. He is English, and has lived in Verona for many years with an Italian wife and children. Both Italian Neighbours and an Italian Education give you a sense of the country from his perspective.

One of my favourite novels is Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin. It was written in 1922. Not sure it counts as historical fiction, but will make you want to go to Italy!

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835 posts

Not historical by any means, but The Venetian Game by Philip Gwyne Jones gives a great feel for Venice.

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1898 posts

Angels and Demons (the book of course) by Dan Brown happens all over Rome and gives an interesting look at the secret corners of the eternal city. Don't waste your time on the movie though :)

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245 posts

My Brilliant Friend
The Name of the Rose
The Agony and the Ecstasy
A Room With A View

not really about Italy, but set in Italy:
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Romeo and Juliet

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990 posts

If you are going to be in Rome, the Lindsey Davis "Falco" series books can be a fun read. The main character is a private investigator (!) in ancient Rome. I think that first one is "The Silver Pigs."

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55 posts

Thumbs up to Chiara’s list!

Consider also:

The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), by Lampedusa

The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi), by Manzoni

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9450 posts

Based on a true story, “Beneath a Scarlet Sky” about a young man in the Resistence who was assigned as a driver to a high-ranking German officer. Amazing and true!

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229 posts

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante makes you feel like you're in Naples in the 50's. You could watch the amazing adaptation of the first book on HBO too.

The Shoemaker's Wife, by Adriana Trigiani is set in the Italian Alps and was quite good.

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17 posts

I enjoyed Colleen McCullough’s series about Ancient Rome especially “The First Man in Rome.”
Currently reading Augustus by John Williams which won the National Book Award.

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672 posts

Under the Tuscan Sun, great book about American woman who relocated to Italy.

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12 posts

Don’t miss the movie, Enchanted April. It’s so lovely, with so much talent: Michael Kitchen, Joan Plowright etc.—too many to list.

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9450 posts

If you are going to Pompeii, "Pompeii" by Robert Harris is an amazing read.

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844 posts

I was just starting to answer and saw Laurel's response. Hubby read it years ago right before our first trip there. I read it on the plane and never slept because it was interesting. Easy read but very interesting. We went to Pompeii and toured on our own with a list of sights to find. We found them all and were there for over 6 hours. Great day and learned a lot! I have recommended this book many times!

Have a Great Trip!
Mimi

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614 posts

I think C.W. Gortner does a good job with historical fiction. He tends to write about controversial famous women in history. Two from Italy: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici and The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia.

My all time favorite is E.M. Forster's A Room With a View. Try to watch the 1985 film set in Florence.

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76 posts

It does depend on where you are going and what you are trying to learn about.

Donna Leon does a great series about life in Venice.

Andrea Camilleri does a great series about life in a small Sicilian town

Bill Buford's HEAT is a must read for foodies who go to Tuscany

Brunnelleschi's Dome is a must read for people going to Florence and are interested in how the Duomo was built

There are more, but can you pinpoint for us where you are going and what you want to "brush up" on?

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230 posts

This isn't fiction, but I found it a fascinating read before my upcoming trip - it is Brunelleschi's Dome by Ross King

He also wrote books about Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel, and Leonardo painting the Last Supper, I think.

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230 posts

@ bxrlover

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante makes you feel like you're in
Naples in the 50's.

I wanted to love this book! All my great-grandparents immigrated from Naples, so this book seemed like a natural for me and I bought it to read on a recent train trip. But I just didn't love it, and couldn't finish it. :(

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788 posts

One of my favourite novels is Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Armin. It was written in 1922. Not sure it counts as historical fiction, but will make you want to go to Italy!

@Lisa - one of my all time favorites! Anyone interested in this might watch the CD as well - filmed in 1992. Great cast, fantastic setting (Castello Brown).

A Room with a View is fine as well. Now, Venice is a whole sub-genre. If no one else has mentioned it, pls consider Miss Garnet's Angel.

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94 posts

Highly recommend The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone - a fabulous and juicy biographical novel of Michelangelo. We read this book before we went and found it helped us enjoy and appreciate the art that we saw everywhere. Knowing the famous artist's back story brought Italy to life!

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3341 posts

If you plan to spend any time in Venice, there are two I'd suggest. While not really ancient history, they are based on very real experiences. First there is "The City of Falling Angels" by John Berendt who wrote "Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil". It is based on the fire at the opera house which thankfully has since been rebuilt. The second is "A Thousand Days In Venice" by Marlena de Blasi and it is based on her experiences living and marrying there.

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4292 posts

I recommend a great non-fiction book about the building of St. Peter's Basilica. It is called Basilica.

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60 posts

I also recommend Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan, which takes place in Milan and the Alps during WWII. It is based on a true story, and I couldn't put it down.

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180 posts

Think of it as an audio book. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast features two series on Ancient Rome: one on the Punic Wars called Punic Nightmares and one on the end of the Republican era called Death Throes of the Republic. He also has a standalone episode about the Gallic Wars called Celtic Holocaust.

His podcasts are exhaustively researched, entertainingly narrated, and consist of multiple 90+ minute episodes. They really are audiobook length, and the one on the end of the Republic is especially good.

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14014 posts

Robert Harris's trilogy on the life of Cicero - encompasses all the events of the early Roman empire from a personal point of view. . . . Lustrum, Dictator, Imperium (don't remember the order and one of the titles may be the British one, different from the American one for some reason).

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6 posts

I second the suggestion of "Beneath a Scarlet Sky." One of the best books I have read in YEARS. A truly amazing story based on a true story. When I finished, I was stunned that I never had heard of the lead character.

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5 posts

This is a memoir rather than fiction, but is very interesting and engaging: Love and War in the Appennines, by Eric Newby. Newby was a prisoner of war in Italy during WWII, escaped and was helped by a series of Italians. He's a great writer, and the story is full of drama and charm.

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112 posts

I’ve enjoyed the books by Lucretia Grindle, as well as the Tim Parks books.

DD