The Secret of the Glass

by Donna Russo Morin

Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach

The Secret of the Glass by Donna Russo Morin The Secret of the Glass is one of a relatively small number of novels set in the Republic of Venice during the early seventeenth century, a fascinating time and place. No longer the maritime power it had once been, Venice remained jealous of its status as merchant to the world. The renowned Venetian glassmakers were subject to restrictive laws designed to preserve the secrets of Venetian glassmaking for Venice alone, including a requirement that all glassmakers live and work on the Island of Murano.

As The Secret of the Glass opens, news arrives for Zeno and the daughter who is secretly learning the art of glassmaking under his tutelage: three glassmakers have been killed as they attempted to leave Venice. For Sophia, their fate is soon overshadowed by other news: a wealthy Venetian aristocrat wishes to marry her and cannot be refused. While attending a party with this cold man whose only interest in her is the wealth from her family's glassworks, she meets a younger, more attractive man and is soon smitten. Also part of the story is the Venetian scientist Galileo, who hires Zeno's glassworks to make lenses for a new invention he has in mind.

Part historical romance, part political thriller, The Secret of the Glass never quite gels into a cohesive story. Its narrative style, as opulent as Venice's architecture, is stuffed with Italian words (vetro for glass, fabbrica for factory, bellissimo for beautiful), with alliteration (surprised by her admirer, Sophia knocks over a pile of metal trays in a "banging barrage of bombilation"), and with exaggerated similes ("the words felt like pieces of half-masticated food stuck in her mouth"). Interesting historical tidbits also abound, from the story behind Galileo's telescope to the tale of Doge Donato, a man of modest means unable to maintain the custom of scattering a lavish abundance of coins during his inauguration procession, so "the popolani had tossed snowballs at him in return." (2010; 408 pages, including an Epilogue discussing the history behind the novel, a Bibliography, and a Reading Group Guide)

More about The Secret of the Glass at Powell's Books or

Other novels about glassmakers:

The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato (2008), about a modern London woman who moves to Venice and researches the story of her ancestor, a great glass artist. More info

The Glass-Blowers by Daphne du Maurier (1962), More info

Nonfiction about glassmakers and Murano:

Murano by Mark Doty (2000). More info

Murano Magic: Complete Guide to Venetian Glass, Its History and Artists by Carl I. Gable (2004). More info

Murano: A History of Glass by Gianfranco Toso (2006). More info


History of Murano Glass at the Murano Magic website

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