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The Lion of Venice

by Mark Frutkin

Past-Governor-General’s-Award nominee Mark Frutkin’s The Lion of Venice is a hybrid of a fictionalized biography of Marco Polo and his travels to the East, and poetic introspective writing that evokes the atmosphere of 13th-century Venice, with its superstitions, misconceptions, and religious habits. The book follows the outline of Polo’s life closely: his family background, travels with his father and uncle to the East, the court of Kublai Khan, and Polo’s imprisonment by the Genoese upon his return to war-torn Venice. Frutkin take the outline of Polo’s life, uses real details and people, then embroiders upon these to make Polo’s mind and heart come alive. Such factual details as Polo’s dictating a book about his life to a cellmate form the backbone of the book and give Frutkin the scope to apply his copious research of the period.

The writing is lyrical and luxurious, as Frutkin brings the sounds, scents, and mystery of the East and Cathay to life. The pacing is a little slow in parts, almost frozen, without much action. It’s hard, too, to suspend disbelief as Frutkin evokes the supernatural in the form of Polo’s obsession with a winged lion, symbol of St. Mark the patron saint of Venice. Along with Polo’s fear of the Doge’s assassin, the lion broods over the story like something out of Charles Williams’ Christian allegories. It’s appropriate to the period, but at times seems exaggerated.

The journey that Polo takes in The Lion in Venice is as much spiritual as it is concrete. And like John Banville’s fictional biographies of Kepler and Copernicus, Mark Frutkin’s new novel seduces with its elegant prose and graphic imagery.


Reviewer: Susan Hughes

Publisher: zz Beach Holme


Price: $14.95

Page Count: 200 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-88878-378-7

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 1997-12

Categories: Fiction: Novels