Diana M. DeLuca, author of Extraordinary Things, offers in A Dream of Shadows a fascinating look at two men and their families in two different centuries — the twenty-first and sixteenth centuries — whose existences are tied together through reincarnation.
In the novel’s opening chapter, we are introduced to Bill del Vecchio and his family. Bill is dying, and his family has brought in hospice to care for him. We see the family dynamics of how his wife, son, a family friend, and his mother all deal with his end of life issues, while Bill finds himself recalling his past and the difficulties of his life with an abusive father and an overbearing mother and then how he came to wed his wife and the conflicts in their viewpoints and personalities, circling around issues of religion.
As Bill lies in his bed, perhaps at times hallucinating, he finds himself moving through a tunnel and arriving in the sixteenth century, where he observes the life of the Italian philosopher Aonio Paleario and his family. Aonio is a historical person who lived at the time of the Reformation. He was a noted scholar and author who corresponded with some of the greatest minds in Europe, including Erasmus. His philosophical questioning and search for truth caused the Catholic Church, and particularly the Pope, to view him as a threat. Consequently, he was tried before the Inquisition as a heretic and asked to recant his writings. The novel explores Paleario’s reasoning behind his beliefs and the moral dilemma he faces of whether he should recant to save his life and the good name of his family.
DeLuca has taken this relatively obscure historical figure and created a second life for him in the character of Bill del Vecchio, considering what the ramifications of his sixteenth century life and moral decisions would have been had he reincarnated and lived in the present day. The comparison between what the two main characters learn and fail to learn about themselves makes for a fascinating and gripping read. DeLuca has also skillfully woven together, like a tapestry, the threads of her other characters’ lives, which will cause readers to play at matching up the sixteenth century figures with their twenty-first century counterparts.
At the center of this novel, however, is not just the theme of reincarnation but the question of individual conscience. To what degree should a person stand up for what he believes to be true? Is one’s moral conscience worth the risk of losing one’s life? Is dying for one’s beliefs something that really makes any difference in the world? How can one even know whether one’s beliefs are true or whether one is simply deluded, stubborn, and self-righteous?
While these moral questions are fascinating and the character portrayals skillfully carried out, perhaps what I most enjoyed about this novel were DeLuca’s meticulous style and mellifluous words. Her omniscient narrator never intrudes, and yet, the reader is aware of being in the hands of a master artisan, a true maestro of tapestry-weaving, and the tapestry itself is a metaphor throughout the novel, including a discussion of Italian tapestries between Aonio and a monk. In that scene, the monk states:
“The weavers must have been touched by the divine to be able to create such pure depictions of human life. Their beauty lay in the perfect blending of color, subject, and form. I felt elevated by being in their presence.”
The same can be said of DeLuca. She must have been touched by the divine in her inspiration to weave together this tapestry of characters whose lives extend over five centuries and to make them come to life so vividly. No doubt her Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance literature helped a great deal, achieving which must have been a great task in itself. And while her writing flows effortlessly, one knows such ease only results from years of practicing the craft of writing.
Readers will come away from this novel feeling that in reading DeLuca’s words, they have dined on the finest chocolate and wine. But more importantly, they will gain glimpses into their own souls; they will question their own motives behind the beliefs they hold; and they will feel their awe over life’s mysteries fully renewed. In short, visiting the Renaissance with DeLuca will kindle a renaissance in the reader’s soul.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0996093400]