- Stone, Irving — The Agony and the Ecstasy (439 of 763 pages)
- Morpurgo, Michael — The Mozart Question (68 pages)
- Unsworth, Barry — Stone Virgin (312 pages)
- Phillips, Caryl — The Nature of Blood (212 pages)
- Page count
When I learned I would be performing in Venice, I searched online for books set there, as I like to do location-appropriate reading when I travel. (Is anyone else experiencing a déjà vu moment?) I learned that a large portion of The Nature of Blood is set in Venice, and I happened already to have it on my book shelves. (The intended reading order for these first four books was (1) Stone's book about a sculptor, (2) Unsworth's book about a stone sculpture in Venice, (3) Morpurgo's book about artistic people in Venice and the Holocaust, and (4) Phillips' book about cultural and racial alienation in Venice, Israel, and Nazi-occupied Poland, but I have a tendency to start and occasionally finish a book before finishing the first. Such is life.)
The Nature of Blood is a fascinating, complex novel which examines the ideas of cultural, religious, and racial identity; alienation; loneliness and the need for personal connections; desire; memory; and longings for home.
The Nature of Blood begins in a British camp in Cyprus as Jewish refugees are turned away from Palestine and discuss the nature of home and the promise of statehood. From there the novel weaves together accounts of a fifteenth century Jewish community in Venice wrongly accused of murdering a Christian boy to use his blood in Passover preparations, the emotional and psychological condition of a Polish girl liberated from a Nazi concentration camp, the destruction of the girl's family in the time leading up to the deportation of Jews from the ghettoes to the camps, Othello's experience as an outsider in Venice, and a fleeting encounter in the 1970s between an Israeli man who gave up his family to fight for the Palestinian state and an Ethiopian Jewish woman resettled and discriminated against in Israel.
Written in sparse, incisive prose, Phillips' novel is haunting, insightful, moving, and memorable.