The Palace

Written by Lisa St. Aubin de Terán
Review by Vicki Kondelik

At the beginning of The Palace, the narrator, a young soldier in Garibaldi’s army, narrowly escapes execution by firing squad. When he returns to prison after the mock-execution, his cellmate, a nobleman named Imolo Vitelli, instructs him in the life of a gentleman, and gives him a new name: Gabriele del Campo, the name of an officer who had been executed. After another brush with death, Gabriele and Vitelli are released from prison. Gabriele goes to Venice, hoping to make his fortune so that he will prove worthy of Donna Donatella, a wealthy landowner’s daughter with whom Gabriele, as a stonecutter’s apprentice, had fallen in love. In Venice, Gabriele wins a huge estate in a card game at a bizarre gambling den, and sets out to build a magnificent palace for Donna Donatella.

St. Aubin de Teran writes beautifully, and the book is full of detailed descriptions: of Gabriele’s life as an apprentice to a harsh master stonecutter, of the countryside where Gabriele grew up, of the fabulous palace itself, and, most importantly, of the city of Venice. The city comes alive in this novel; the author describes the sights, sounds, and smells of 19th century Venice so well that you feel as if you are living there. Her characters are just as vivid as her descriptions: Gabriele and his valet, Giovanni, a Venetian gondolier, are especially well-drawn. The narrative is not strictly chronological; the book contains many flashbacks and flash-forwards. But this is not a problem. I certainly had no difficulty following the narrative.

St. Aubin de Teran leaves several unanswered questions at the end. For example, has the palace itself become more important to Gabriele than his love for Donna Donatella? This, I believe, is deliberately left vague. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in Italy or who is looking for a beautifully written historical novel.