three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
22-May-June-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-InLucia’sEyesLegendary 18th-century womanizer Giacomo Casanova had many lovers but few great loves. In his autobiography, he briefly mentions his first love—Lucia, a 14-year-old servant girl living in Pasiano, Italy. Taking poetic license with this reference, Japin imagines the circumstances surrounding their chaste affair and the reasons for Lucia’s abrupt betrayal. Disfigured by smallpox after their affair, she flees in shame to seek her fate elsewhere in Europe—as a secretary, a prostitute, and a madam. Years later, masked by a veil, she meets Casanova once again, but this time their circumstances differ.
Knopf. 235 pages. $24. ISBN: 1400044642

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"[Lucia] will never be truly accepted by the world she lives in. And this is what makes Lucia a modern heroine and In Lucia’s Eyes a modern novel, as well as a compelling piece of historical fiction." Elizabeth Gold

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"What makes In Lucia’s Eyes so fascinating is its melding of disparate veins: It’s a painful story that arrives at profound insights about the nature of love, but it’s spiked with bodice-ripper suspense and humor; it’s an intensely private testimony of one woman’s peculiar survival, but it’s laced with a fascinating survey of 18th-century intellectual history." Ron Charles

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"Although Lucia may have a heart of gold, this is beside the point in a novel whose themes—though they include illusion and revelation, surface and substance, fate and poetic justice—are treated neither predictably nor sentimentally." Kathryn Harrison

Newsday 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Japin has certainly done his homework, and he writes authoritatively on 18th century medical classrooms, Dutch whorehouses, and Venetian baths, but he never manages to breathe convincing life into his central character. … Instead, [Lucia is] guilty of the one sin fatal in both courtesans and fictional narrators: She’s a bore." Tom Beer

Providence Journal 2.5 of 5 Stars
"One of the hardest things for a writer is to create a believable character of the opposite sex. … Japin has spun a tale that’s heartbreaking, engrossing, and unflinchingly real." Kristin Latina

Rocky Mountain News 1 of 5 Stars
"In Lucia’s Eyes is set in such an extraordinary time and told by such a colorful character that we expect much more than [Japin] delivers. … The greatest flaw of the novel, though, is Japin’s heavy-handed moral message." Ashley Simpson Shires

Critical Summary

Japin (The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi) offers an intriguing story about love, deceit, betrayal, identity, and self-sacrifice. Presented from Lucia’s perspective, the story rests on one detail from Casanova’s Histoire de ma vie but makes good use of its larger context. Critics agree that Japin’s rich historical material, including Lucia’s involvement in the era’s intellectual, artistic, and philosophical currents, makes the 18th century come alive. They disagree, however, about Lucia: Is she a flesh-and-blood woman or cardboard cutout? In pitting reason against emotion, Japin also creates a heavy-handed morality play. It’s "high-brow chick lit in Masterpiece Theatre drag," says Newsday—but in the end, the book is also a compelling piece of historical fiction.