The Republic of Venice existed from the late 7th century until 1797 and was formally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice, or La Serenissima for short. Erica Jong's 1987 novel Serenissima is set in contemporary Venice, but much of the story goes back in time to Venice in the late 1500s, at the peak of the Republic's glory.
Jessica Pruitt is a 43-year old actress in Venice to judge an international film festival and begin filming her next movie, a reinterpretation of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice in which she will star as her namesake, Shylock's daughter Jessica.
Like the dreamy, foggy glide of gondolas downs Venice's romantic canals, the story drifts from the glittering present to Jessica's historic adventure. After an encounter with an aging ex-patriot – who may also be a witch – Jessica finds herself in the lavish Jewish ghetto of 16th Century Venice, in love with a visiting English poet named Will, and racing to save a newborn Christian baby by finding it a safe Jewish home.
The story definitely depends on the reader's willing suspension of disbelief. The time-travel doesn't try to make sense and the ending explains nothing. And there is a sex scene involving Shakespeare, a Venetian whore, and the Earl of Southampton that I would like to erase from my reading psyche.
But Jong is a terrific writer who blends sumptuous language with a knack for good storytelling. Fans of Jong may prefer her purely contemporary novels like Fear of Flying and its sequels. On the other hand, Serenissima would make a good introduction to Jong for fans of fantasy and historic romance.
Fear of Flying, reviewed here
How to Save Your Own Life, reviewed here
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Serenissima was also published as Shylock's Daughter.
This counted as my Italy book for the European Reading Challenge, my book for the Venice in February Challenge., and one of my books for the I Love Italy Challenge.