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In the Company of the Courtesan: A Novel Paperback – February 6, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 227 customer reviews

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From the creator and writer of Downton Abbey comes a grand historical novel, with hugely exciting twists and dramatic chapter endings. Learn more | See author page
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Renaissance Italy enchants in Dunant's delicious second historical (after The Birth of Venus), as a wily dwarf Bucino Teodoldo recounts fantastic escapades with his mistress, celebrated courtesan Fiammetta Bianchini. Escaping the 1527 sacking of Rome with just the clothes on their backs (and a few swallowed jewels in their bellies), Fiammetta and Bucino seek refuge in Venice. Starved, stinking, her beauty destroyed, Fiammetta despairs—but through cunning, will, Bucino's indefatigable loyalty and the magic of a mysterious blind healer called La Draga, she eventually recovers. Aided by a former adversary, who now needs her as much as she needs him, Fiammetta finds a wealthy patron to establish her in her familiar glory. Through Bucino's sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued narration, Dunant crafts a vivid vision of Venetian life: the weave of politics and religion; the layers of class; the rituals, intrigue, superstitions and betrayals. Dunant's characters—the steely courtesan whose glimpse of true love nearly brings her to ruin; the shrewd and passionate dwarf who turns his abnormalities into triumph; and the healer whose mysterious powers and secrets leave an indelible mark on the duo—are irresistible throughout their shifting fortunes. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From The New Yorker

Dunant's latest historical romp follows the fortunes of a beautiful, flame-haired courtesan, Fiammetta Bianchini, who, after escaping from the 1527 pillage of Rome, sets up shop in Venice. The novel, narrated by Fiammetta's servant, a dwarf, chronicles the pair's horrific scrapes and their dizzying triumphs, which include Fiammetta's becoming Titian's model for his "Venus of Urbino." Along the way, Dunant presents a lively and detailed acccount of the glimmering palaces and murky alleys of Renaissance Venice, and examines the way the city's clerics and prostitutes alike are bound by its peculiar dynamic of opulence and restraint.
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 385 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812974042
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812974041
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (227 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #241,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ellis Bell VINE VOICE on March 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book was so good that I read it in one sitting. In this book Dunant returns to the place and time she does best: Renaissance Italy. This time the story takes place in Rome and Venice in 1527, and focuses upon Fiametta Bianchi and her dwarfish servant, Bucino Teodaldo. In the Company of the Courtesan is told from his point of view.

The book opens in Rome. Fiametta, a successful courtesan, leaves the city with her servant and goes to Venice, the city that was famous in this time period for the courtesans that lived there. Venice is a decadent city, filled with sin and vice, and it is through this that Bucino and his mistress must wade in order for her to be successful in her chosen profession. Along the way we run into a variety of interesting characters: a servant with sticky fingers; a Jew who lives in the Jewish ghetto of Venice; a blind healer called "La Draga;" a Turk who is fascinated by Bucino's size; the poet Aretino; the artist Titian; and a variety of Fiametta's clients. Many of the characters were, of course, real people; others, of course, were not. The story that Dunant creates, which mixes what really happened with fiction, is breathtaking.

This book is well-written, and very much like The Birth of Venus, Dunant's 2004 novel that is set in Florence at the end of the fifteenth century. In the Company of the Courtesan has the same kind of qualities, but is a great book in its own way.
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Format: Hardcover
With this, her second foray into historical fiction, Sarah Dunant gives her readers another brilliant novel.

Obviously well researched, Dunant's depiction of the Italian Renaissance setting is so realistic as to be magical. She transports the reader to 1527 and keeps them there. This fascinating novel is well fleshed out with historical figures and events.

The story is that of Fiametta, the titular courtesan and her dwarf companion, Bucino. They lose everything they hold dear, and barely escape with their lives when Rome is sacked and destroyed around them. Fiametta's legendary beauty was damaged in an encounter with "Lutheran harpies," and the two voyage to her matriarchal home in Venice to recover.

Sadly Fiametta"s mother has long since died and nothing remains of her fortune. With the help of La Draga, an eerily blind, crippled healer, Fiametta is nursed back to health and works hard to regain her status as the high-class companion to the wealthy and titled men of her time.

All is well until an accident involving Bucino sends him seeking after La Draga. To her misfortune, his discovery of her secret ends in an accusation of witchcraft and subsequent trial.

Dunant's Venice is truly compelling, shown to the reader by the unusually astute observer Bucino, narrator of this story. At times he is companion, helper, business manager, confidant and exotic plaything. He uses his status as a dwarf to full advantage. He is quite a sympathetic character; one can't help but like him for his loyalty to his mistress. He stands by her through thick and thin, even when there is considerable danger to his own skin. Indeed his loyalty makes him reject an offer that, had he accepted, would have set him up in luxury.
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Format: Paperback
This book has most everything you would want in a period piece. It contains unique richly developed characters, intrigue, humor, & a deep plot. The sights, sounds, smells, & ambiance of 16th century Venice are almost lifelike. There is a fine mingling of social mores & politics that leads to many types of betrayal that keep the reader guessing. The author tells Fiammetta's story through the eyes of Bucino, a clever dwarf who shares her lodgings. He eventually will be the main character. The story begins in 1527 with the sacking of Rome. Fiammetta, is ravaged by the invaders & flees the city with Bucino{a loyal caretaker, & sardonic, resourceful spy}, with little else but the clothes on their backs, & some swallowed jewels. They reach Fiammetta's deceased mother's home in Venice. Soon La Draga, a mysterious, blind woman comes into their lives to nurse Fiammetta back to her original health & beauty.

After a long recuperation she sets out to be the highly desired Courtesan she had been back in Rome. But, clearly she has not recovered as she gets more businesslike & cold as the book advances. Her lovers & friends are well done 7 most have an impact on the general theme. The most interesting relationship in the book is between La Draga & Bucino. their relationship will eventually put Fiammetta into the background, while these two characters play out their dramatic fates. The only minor flaw is that it was a too long, had it been a bit shorter in reaching the end I would have given it 5 stars.
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Format: Hardcover
Set in the 1500s in Venice, Dunant gives us a sometimes raunchy, sometimes touching and always realistic view of the world in this era. The book is written by the partner/manager of a gorgeous "courtesan" which I like to think of as more like a geisha than a prostitute, but make no mistake, our heroine is a high end prostitute and entertainer of rich men of the era. The partner is an extremely likable, insightful, resourcesful dwarf who is well aware of his position in life as a freak and sometimes entertainer and court jestor. I laughed out loud many times at his views and comments about himeself, other people's reactions to him as well as his general take on things that works today.

The partnership of the two works extremely well as they escape without much but their lives from Rome which is under siege and then move to Venice to carefully try to rebuild their whole business. Our courtesan has lost her hair and her confidence. With the help of a blind healer, they find their way back into business as usual and then the fun begins with the various and sundry wealthy clients, friends from the past, etc.

There is humor, there is wisdom about human sexuality, there is history and there is a great and touching story.
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