Building a living reality from the bare bones of historical fact in Casanova's memoirs, the author transforms a male tale of betrayal and disillusion into a woman's story of adventure, resilience, enlightenment and, ultimately, real love.
From the Hardcover edition.
Set in the mid-18th century, Dutch author Japin's elegant second novel (after The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi) richly imagines the plight of Casanova's first youthful heartbreak. Lucia is 14 and a servant girl in a noble house in Pasiano, Italy, when she first meets the young seminarian visitor Giacomo Casanova, who is as virginal as she. They fall into a frolicsome love affair until Lucia contracts the dreaded smallpox. Horribly disfigured from the disease, she concocts a story to turn Giacomo away and flees her home to embrace adventures across Europe, in turn working as a servant, a secretary to an enlightened woman philosopher, and a prostitute, who "learned to accept what other women found intolerable." Years later, having reinvented herself as Galathee, a well-heeled madam in Amsterdam, she finds a mysterious liberation in the use of a veil to attract her clients and meets Casanova again, now the practiced seducer le Chevalier de Seingalt. Their mature affair is conducted in the form of a cynical wager, and they dance rhetorically around the tender feelings of their youth. Despite the awkward conceit of the prostitute's veil and the sometimes stilted language of this translation, Japin has incorporated Casanova's Story of My Life to beguiling effect. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 12, 2007
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Excerpt from In Lucia's Eyes by Arthur Japin
The evening on which I came to see everything in a new light, I was planning to dine, as I did every Thursday, with Mr. Jamieson, a wholesaler of skins and tobacco, and then perhaps to go dancing with him. It was only after an attack of gout had forced the good merchant to cancel our appointment that I decided to visit my box at the theater.
Don't misunderstand me. I am not used to luxury. Since the calamity, I have been at life's mercy and am very frugal. I've had to be. For a long time I had no idea what the next day would bring: whether I would go hungry, whether anyone would shelter me, whether I would be attacked and forced to move on. Even after I'd finally attained a certain status in Amsterdam, I always limited myself to a bare minimum of finery--only what was expected in the circles I was obliged to move in and the sundries I needed to practice my profession. I never allowed myself extravagance. Nor did I feel the want of any. In the last couple of years, however, I did allow myself one thing: a permanent box seat at the French theater on the Overtoom, which I visited whenever time permitted.
I was on my way there that evening in mid-October. As usual, I had hired a small but respectable boat. There was a chill in the air. In Amsterdam the cold on the canals is worse than in Venice. More piercing and insidious, it sets in months earlier and tends to settle in the bones rather than the lungs. All the same, I prefer a boat to a carriage. The people on the quays tend to ignore those who pass them on the water. More or less unnoticed, I am able to study others at my leisure. On the evening in question I was doing just that, partly for my own amusement and partly for professional reasons.
In the curve of the Herengracht, two gentlemen caught my eye. One of them I already knew: Jan Rijgerbos, a stockbroker. A friendly, cultivated widower, Rijgerbos is fit, well built, and undemanding. His companion was unknown to me. He had a dark complexion and a striking profile. It was the latter feature that immediately attracted my attention. His appearance touched me in a way I could not explain. I asked the boatman to row faster so that we might stay abreast of the two men walking on the quay, and I continued to study the stranger. His face was oval, and a blond wig framed it to advantage. Although not particularly handsome, he soon aroused my desire quite unexpectedly.
This annoyed me.
I am the one who arouses desire.
He was too slight for me anyway, I decided. What's more, dressed as he was according to the latest Paris fashion--in breeches of yellow silk that showed his calves--he cut an absurd figure in such bleak weather. I lost interest and began surveying the other pedestrians. As we passed under the Leidsebrug, however, Rijgerbos and his friend were just crossing it and I managed to catch a snatch of their conversation. They were speaking French: one with difficulty, the other with apparent ease. I liked the sound of the Frenchman's voice and ordered the boatman to stop beneath the arches of the bridge. We waited there in the shadows until the two men were out of sight.
Were it not for the recklessly low neckline I was wearing, or that my thoughts that evening were far from elevated, or that I am scarcely the kind of woman a higher power would squander ten minutes of thought on--were it not for any of these incontrovertible facts, you might imagine that God, or maybe the devil, had arranged the whole thing for His entertainment. A coincidence like this! How rare it is that we are allowed a glimpse of the grand scheme within which all our lives are arranged. All the years of being buffeted by fate had not prepared me for what would follow. All that time I had been constantly on guard. And now, just as I was beginning to think that fortune had finally grown bored with tossing me about, it rose up again, coming to feral attention to seize me by the throat.