July 2024

The Glassmaker

By Tracy Chevalier
Review by
Tracy Chevalier’s 12th book is potent, bewitching and addictive as it elegantly glides along the line between historical drama and something more experimental.
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There is an immediate richness to the historical fiction of Tracy Chevalier (Girl With a Pearl Earring, Remarkable Creatures), one that goes beyond carefully researched details and evocative prose, and into deep emotion. In her 12th book, The Glassmaker, Chevalier weaves a tapestry of character and conflict, change and stability, to create a story that elegantly glides along the line between historical drama and something more experimental, while never losing sight of the tactile humanity that gives her work such pure, invigorating life.

The glassmaker of the title is Orsola Rosso, a young woman living on the island of Murano just off the coast of Italy next to Venice. When we meet Orsola, the Renaissance is in full swing, and Murano’s reputation as the “Island of Glass” means that her glassmaking family enjoys a stable, happy life. That all changes when Orsola’s father, the heart of the family, dies in an accident in their workshop, leaving his son unprepared to take over the business. With her family’s future in question, Orsola begins a secret glassmaking enterprise of her own, making beads over a burning lamp in a corner of the Rosso kitchen. What begins as a chance to earn some extra money soon turns into something more, as Orsola’s life, and the lives of those around her, are forever changed by her approach to her craft.

Chevalier, too, takes a uniquely impactful approach to her craft. Steeped in detail, The Glassmaker charts the history of Venice and the delicate balance of trade that keeps the glassmakers working. But instead of transpiring over decades, the Rosso family story stretches over centuries, with the same characters aging slowly while the world around them changes dramatically. Venice goes through wars, regime changes, plagues, political upheaval and much more, and all the while Orsola makes beads, and she and her family persevere.

Through her measured, passionate prose, Chevalier sinks us into this strange relationship with time, where the passage of years is as moldable and oozing as molten glass fresh from a furnace. The characters and their lives take on an almost meditative quality, and The Glassmaker becomes a study not just of history, but of what endures history. That makes it a potent, bewitching bright spot in a stellar career.

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The Glassmaker

The Glassmaker

By Tracy Chevalier
ISBN 9780525558279

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