Five Stars for The Glassblower’s Wife

8-3 Glassblower coverI love an his­tor­i­cal mys­tery. I espe­cial­ly love one that intro­duces me to his­to­ry I don’t know in such a thor­ough­ly engross­ing way. The Glassblower’s Wife, by Joan­na Camp­bell Slan, is a long short sto­ry rather than a full-length nov­el. But, it packs a wal­lop! It is an his­toric tale involv­ing Jew­ish glass blow­ers from Italy who took their excep­tion­al craft to France to make the mir­rors for the Hall of Mir­rors in Ver­sailles. There’s mur­der, devo­tion, an excel­lent plot, and superb writ­ing.

The offi­cial blurb states: “When Jew­ish glass­mak­ers and their fam­i­lies flee the pow­er­ful Doge of Venice, the cost of their free­dom is three hun­dred and fifty-sev­en mirrors–the cre­ation of the mag­nif­i­cent Hall of Mir­rors in Ver­sailles. But the Doge sends assas­sins to pick off the artists, one by one. Can Ruth Telfin, the mute wife of the head glass­mak­er, save her peo­ple?”

I’m not the only read­er who com­ment­ed favor­ably. One says, “Since this is a short sto­ry, I fig­ured it would be a good chance to get a taste of this author’s writ­ing style. I nev­er expect­ed such a pow­er­ful sto­ry.”

Anoth­er said: “I must admit that this type of book isn’t real­ly what I usu­al­ly pick to read. Hav­ing read all of Camp­bell Slan’s oth­er books, I decid­ed to give it a try. This is a long short sto­ry based on his­tor­i­cal facts back in the late 1600’s. I real­ly learned a lot from it. She throws in a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter that real­ly saves the day at the end. Kudos to Slan for her research and dri­ve to write this book.”

And that’s my focus today—fiction that gives the read­er his­to­ry with a sto­ry that not only inter­ests the read­er, but opens her eyes to some­thing that real­ly hap­pened, per­haps years, per­haps cen­turies ago. All too often his­to­ry is pre­sent­ed as bor­ing, irrel­e­vant, unim­por­tant, or, even as per­pet­u­at­ed untrue myth. One of the web­sites I researched to fol­low this sto­ry said: “His­to­ri­ans have long repeat­ed that the for­mu­la for lead-glass was invent­ed in 1674 by an Eng­lish­man, George Raven­scroft. His­to­ri­ans often make a habit of being in error. In this case the error could not be more gross. Raven­scroft was nei­ther an arti­san nor an inven­tor. It is true that Raven­scroft patent­ed the process; it is false that he invent­ed it.”

And, occa­sion­al­ly, text­books per­pet­u­ate myth as well. I remem­ber one such from my own high school years. I cer­tain­ly know that fic­tion often plays fast and loose with his­toric past. No prob­lem, as long as it is under­stood. Some of my favorite reads are steam­punk nov­els, the ulti­mate reworked his­to­ry. But I love the true mean­ing that often comes through in his­tor­i­cal fic­tion.


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