Ever since her mother’s death, Allegra Pasquino’s been the joy of her father’s life. And when he’s locked in the dungeons of Castel Sant’Angelo, the fate of the family hinges on whether Allegra can make a group of ancient statues talk.
In 1501 Rome, it’s the beginning of a new era of opulence and opportunity. Art is commissioned and antiquities dug from the earth. The Pasquinos run a successful clothing business and the Vatican is one of their clients, which makes them privileged to all sorts of confessions.
When a statue is unburied at a construction site outside the Pasquino shop, satirical poems and cartoons criticizing the aristocracy, and even the Catholic Church soon appear pinned to it. In Renaissance Rome, this was the only form of free speech.
At 20, Allegra is too old to still be at home. Her father arranges a marriage with the son of one of Milan’s finest tailors, and she must do as she’s told. Then Allegra meets a young man from the Roman Jewish neighborhood of Trastevere. She knows the attraction she feels for him is forbidden.
The posts on the statue draw unwanted attention, and her father is imprisoned. Since the statue is nicknamed Pasquino, everyone assumes the posts come from him, whether he writes them or not.
Allegra, who not only inherited her father’s gift for fashion design but also for wittiness, keeps the business going by posting to the statue. The posts are answered by others, and become the Talking Statues of Rome. It’s the Renaissance equivalent of tweeting or blogging the truth.
The story runs parallel with the daughter of the pope’s third marriage, and the Pasquinos design the wedding gown of Lucrezia Borgia. Lucrezia can’t escape her marriage; maybe Allegra can. With freedom at risk—the freedom of her father, freedom of speech, and her own freedom—she has to find a way.
Told from the point of view of a ghost recounting her version to a modern-day relative, in the end, the storyteller is revealed as the spirit of Allegra herself.
I researched the historical multi-generational/young adult novel ALLEGRA (71,000 words) in graduate school, inspired by the talking statue called Pasquino, my grandmother’s last name. Original satires punctuate each chapter. This novel introduces women who are never mentioned into the historical record, to create a more inclusive narrative, and may appeal to fans of historical fiction writer Jennifer Donnelly.
In Pasquino, Veritas.—Michelle Zaffino
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