The Secret Book of Grazia Dei Rossi

by Jacqueline Park

Simon & Schuster | September 1, 1998 | Trade Paperback

3.8889 out of 5 rating. 18 Reviews
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The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi is a sweeping tale of intrigue and romance set in a time rife with court politics, papal chicanery, religious intolerance, and inviolable social rules. Grazia, private secretary to the world-renowned Isabella d''Este, is the daughter of an eminent Jewish banker, the wife of the pope''s Jewish physician, and the lover of a Christian prince. In a "secret book," written as a legacy for her son, she records her struggles to choose between the seductions of the Christian world and a return to the family, traditions, and duties of her Jewish roots. As she re-creates Renaissance Italy in captivating detail, Jacqueline Park gives us a timeless portrait of a brave and brilliant woman trapped in an unforgiving, inflexible society.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 576 pages, 3.15 × 2.07 × 0.63 in

Published: September 1, 1998

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0684848406

ISBN - 13: 9780684848402

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– More About This Product –

The Secret Book of Grazia Dei Rossi

by Jacqueline Park

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 576 pages, 3.15 × 2.07 × 0.63 in

Published: September 1, 1998

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0684848406

ISBN - 13: 9780684848402

Read from the Book

Chapter One I will begin on holy Thursday in the Christian year 1487, Eastertide for the Christians, Passover for the Jews, a perilous time for all. Until that day I had lived the eight years of my life in a child''s paradise. On Passover eve Fra Bernardino da Feltre preached an Easter sermon in the town of Mantova. After that day nothing was ever the same again. The day began for me and my little brother in the ordinary way. Awakened at cock''s crow by the slave girl Cateruccia, who slept at the foot of our bed, we washed up, said our prayers, and went on to Mama''s room for a sweet bun and some watered wine. This repast had been added to the household routine the year before on the advice of the humanist physician Helia of Cremona. According to him a small amount of bread and wine at the beginning of the day gave protection against the plague by heating the stomach, thus strengthening it against disease. Since few of our neighbors ever served a morsel of food until dinnertime, this extra meal gave our famiglia a certain notoriety among those whose minds and habits were mired in the Dark Ages. But our parents were adherents of all things modern and humanistic. They believed in the superiority of the ancients, the beauty of the human body, and the new educational methods of Maestro Vittorino. Not for them the rabbinical axiom "First the child is allured; then the strap is laid upon his back." Our tutor was never permitted to use the rod. Out of respect to the wisdom of the an
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From the Publisher

The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi is a sweeping tale of intrigue and romance set in a time rife with court politics, papal chicanery, religious intolerance, and inviolable social rules. Grazia, private secretary to the world-renowned Isabella d''Este, is the daughter of an eminent Jewish banker, the wife of the pope''s Jewish physician, and the lover of a Christian prince. In a "secret book," written as a legacy for her son, she records her struggles to choose between the seductions of the Christian world and a return to the family, traditions, and duties of her Jewish roots. As she re-creates Renaissance Italy in captivating detail, Jacqueline Park gives us a timeless portrait of a brave and brilliant woman trapped in an unforgiving, inflexible society.

About the Author

Jacqueline Park is the founding chairman of the Dramatic Writing Program and professor emerita at New York University''s Tisch School of the Arts. Born and educated in Canada, she now lives in New York, Toronto, and Miami Beach.

From Our Editors

As she recreates life in Renaissance Italy in captivating detail, Park creates a timeless portrait of a brave and brilliant woman trapped in an unforgiving, inflexible society.

Editorial Reviews

Sue Miron The Miami Herald Wonderful. An absolutely fascinating, compulsively readable novel about a sixteen-century woman who would be considered outstanding in any era.

Bookclub Guide

Reading Group Discussion Points
  1. In The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi, fiction and history are seamlessly woven together. Discuss how Ms. Park achieves this. What "liberties" does she take that a non-fiction author could not? What details does she use to make the world alive and vivid? How does the device of the secret book contribute to the veracity of the world?
  2. Both God and fortune are invoked by the characters to explain existence. Grazia writes, "Fortune favors the bold," and "Fortuna is never as generous as she likes to appear." She also writes, "For a time, we stood huddled together in front of the wreckage of Gallic''s banco, too stunned by the vastness of God''s indifference." What is the difference between fortune and God in the novel? What is the role of fortune in the lives of the characters? What is the role of God?
  3. In The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi, Ms. Park re-creates the life of the court and the great houses of the Jews. Grazia writes, "It is said that no one in Mantova, save the Gonzagas themselves, owned more elegant tableware than Rachel dei Rossi." Though the riches of the Gonzagas and the dei Rossis may be similar, their lives and values are different. In what ways do their views on money, education, and religion differ? How are they similar?
  4. In the world of Renaissance Italy, the lives of the Jews and the aristocracy are very separate yet closely entwined at the same time. How are their lives linked? How do they depend upon each other? What role do the Jews play in the cultural and economic life of Renaissance Italy?
  5. Grazia''s father is a gambler and bargaining is a part of his business at the bank. Both the Jews and the aristocracy engage in gambling and bargaining. Discuss the role both activities play in their lives. Is the ability to bargain respected? What does it take to be a good "bargainer"? Are similar skills used in negotiating the affairs of state and the affairs of the bank?
  6. Grazia writes with regards to Isabella and her son that, "the correspondence between mother and son constitutes a veritable lexicon of double-dealing evasion and betrayal." Why does she characterize their relations this way? What circumstances give rise to this type of relationship? Finally, Grazia says that "the Palace is maintained by compromise and opportunism," and "why do sensible nations entrust themselves to these royal monsters and half-wits?" Why do you think they do?
  7. Grazia writes that the Gonzagas let "the dei Rossi men display their colors...Jehiel was a prince that night. He made our house a palace. My father was a king and all of us were members of a royal family," adding that "Jews are back in style." Why does Grazia compare her family to nobility? Why do the Jews imitate the princes? And what are the reasons for banishing and then reinstating the Jews at court?
  8. Grazia''s parents were "adherents of all things modern and humanistic." She writes that she was not raised by strict Jewish law that stated, "First the child is allured; then the strap is laid upon his back." What is the difference between a Jewish education and a humanist education? What characterizes humanism? What characterizes Judaism? What are the differences between the two tenets?
  9. Grazia''s tutor at her grandmother''s house says, "that it is not proper for a devout Jewish girl to speak Latin." Furthermore, her grandmother tells Grazia that "books destroy a woman''s brains" and that books and study have corrupted Grazia''s virtue. Why are knowledge and scholarship for women looked down upon in the Jewish religion? Is this a religious phenomenon or a societal one? Is it any different for the Christian princesses, and if so why? How does Grazia succeed in becoming a scholar?
  10. When Grazia''s father is caught "coin clipping" the Duke''s coins, the Duke forgives him and turns him over to his own people to administer justice. The Wad Kellilah tribune finds Grazia''s father guilty, and in his excommunication ceremony they treat him horribly, spitting on him and shaming him in front of other Jews. Why are the Jews harsher to Grazia''s father than the aristocracy? What is the psychology behind such behavior?
  11. Near the end of the novel, Gershorn recounts how he finally understands why Judah always said, "A Jew must be an observing Jew; there is no other kind; for ours is a religion of practice, not transcendence," and is relieved of the "agony of living a double life," of being a Jew and not practicing the rituals. Why was it agony for him? How could the idea of a double life be considered one of the themes of this novel? In what ways do Jehiel, Grazia, and Judah live double lives? Do any of the Christian characters lead double lives?
  12. Grazia gives her son a few pieces of advice in her secret book. One is that he must stake his claim as a man and the other is that he should never neglect the obligations of mourning. Why are these two pieces of advice so important to Grazia? What else does she want to impart to her son in writing this book? What kind of man does Grazia hope Danilo will be?
  13. Grazia says in regard to her Book of Heroines that a great woman is one who rises above others through, "intellect, daring, or strength." According to this description of virtue, could Grazia put herself in the Book of Heroines and if so, why?
  14. When Grazia fled Mantova as a child she took nothing because, "God had told them [the Jews] to carry forth naught of the flesh abroad out of the house, not even a bone." Grazia writes that she had persuaded herself that, "if she followed God''s instruction to the letter, He might bring them forth safely." Later, when Asher is placed in )ail, she begins to question God. When Judah says to her "put your faith in God''s mercy," Grazia thinks to herself that she does not have "serene faith in God''s beneficence." Why is Grazids faith shaken when Judah''s faith never is? What is Grazids relationship to religion and to God?
  15. When Grazia fled Mantova as a child she took nothing because, "God had told them [the Jews] to carry forth naught of the flesh abroad out of the house, not even a bone." Grazia writes that she had persuaded herself that, "if she followed God''s instruction to the letter, He might bring them forth safely." Later, when Asher is placed in jail, she begins to question God. When Judah says to her "put your faith in God''s mercy," Grazia thinks to herself that she does not have "serene faith in God''s beneficence." Why is Grazia''s faith shaken when Judah''s faith never is? What is Grazia''s relationship to religion and to God?
  16. What do you make of her final choice between husband and lover? What effects does if have on her son? What is Ms. Park trying to say through Grazia''s decision? Is there a moral to this story?
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