Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered

August 4, 2014 Biography, History, Narrative Non-Fiction, non-fiction 14

18775443Title: Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered
Author: Dianne Hales
Source: from publisher via NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Summary: This wasn’t the most organized nonfiction I’ve read, but the author did an amazing job bringing the people and time period to life.

Although the Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the world, little is known about the real woman represented in the painting. There is even some speculation about which woman was Da Vinci’s model. Lisa Gherardini is the most likely candidate and in this book, Dianne Hales brings together what is known about Lisa’s life. She also uses this “quintessential woman of her times” to explore what life was like for women in Florence during the Renaissance.

Dianne Hales knows how to get on my good side, starting her book with a note stating that she will always make it clear whether she is sharing speculation or fact. She also began with a family tree and a map. Despite these favorable signs, the beginning of the narrative was not so well organized. The first chapter seems to be intended as an overview of Lisa’s life, but it felt very disjointed. Abrupt transitions between scenes made it hard to get into the story, especially the transitions between the author’s experiences and Lisa’s. However, as I got into the story, the transitions felt smooth enough I hardly noticed them.

The author’s ability to capture the details of daily life in Florence and the feelings inspired by different locations was the strongest point of the book. She collected an amazing assortment of interesting stories, all connected to Lisa. She cleverly used personal correspondence from people similar to the people she was discussing to speculate about how they were feeling. She shared the feelings particular locations inspired in her to speculate about what living at those locations was like for Lisa. She always made it clear where she was extrapolating, so even though it made the story less factual, I don’t think it was misleading. In fact, I think it shared a different truth – not just about what Mona Lisa’s life was like, but what life in general was like in Florence during Lisa’s lifetime. The author’s stories included many famous people and were incredibly entertaining. I suspect this is a credit both to her research ability, finding the best anecdotes, and her enthusiasm, giving her an impressive storytelling ability.

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14 Responses to “Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered”

  1. Aloi (guiltlessreading)

    I like the sound of this! I’ve always been fascinated with the Mona Lisa and all the speculation behind who Lisa is. This is probably going to raise some more discussion but I like the idea that Hales used Lisa as an instrument to describe Florence at the time.

    • DoingDewey

      I really liked that the author used Lisa’s story as a way to describe Florence too! I love when an author describes what daily life was like in other times and places. It’s fun to read about monarchs and nobles, but I think it’s even more interesting to learn about the lesser known details of most people’s daily lives.

  2. Cayce

    Oh, this sounds like an interesting nonfiction. I’ve seen the Mona Lisa in the Louvre (it was smaller than I expected) but I don’t know much about her. And I love books with maps/anecdotes! 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I was pretty amazed by the number of interesting anecdotes and famous people the author managed to connect to the Mona Lisa. It was a very entertaining read 🙂

  3. Julie @ Smiling Shelves

    Looking at the cover, I just assumed this book was historical fiction. I think I’ll like it even better now that I know it’s nonfiction, especially having traveled to Florence recently. Looks like it’s right up my alley!

    • DoingDewey

      I think having been to Florence would add another really fun dimension to reading this book. I love when I recognize locations I’ve been in books and the place descriptions in this book are so great, I’m sure there will be some places that are familiar to you.

    • DoingDewey

      The author actually mentioned several fictionalized accounts of Lisa’s life. I haven’t read any to recommend, but I expect you could find some. I might try myself sometime, her story was so interesting!

  4. Krysta

    This sounds really interesting. Sometimes I’m disappointed when authors use stories about life in general to fill in the gaps of personal histories, but I realize that often it’s necessary to have enough information to write a book. I might have to put this one on my to-read list.

    • DoingDewey

      I thought it was really well done here. The author always picked people very similar to the people she was discussing and the little details that allowed her to add to the story made it a lot better. I’d recommend it 🙂

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