Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cry to Heaven

If anyone had told me a few weeks ago that I would be reading a book about eighteenth-century castrati by Ann Rice I would have told that person that they were high. So I just finished "Cry to Heaven" (564 pages) by Anne Rice, a story about eighteenth-century castrati. My friend Amy mailed me an old copy of the book and insisted that I read it. She also sweetened the deal by including several packages of Giant Chewy Sweet Tarts, my favorite sweet treat. From Goodreads:

"They were the castrati--male sopranos whose glorious voices brought them adulation throughout Europe even as they were despised as 'monsters'. For Tonio Treschi, the child of Venetian nobility, kidnapped and castrated in a murderous family conspiracy, only one thing would soothe his soul--revenge!"

I actually found the story of this novel engaging. Before reading this book I had no clue that young boys were castrated and sold to various church organizations to be trained musically to take the place of women as sopranos in operas as well as other musical endeavours. At the time the Catholic Church forbade women from taking the stage in many parts of Italy (358th reason to loathe Christianity). Through some research I found that at it's height it was estimated that 4,000 young boys a year were put through this horrific process whether they showed an inclination to music or not! Finally the practice was outlawed and phased out sometime in the nineteenth-century.

Through family conflicts, Tonio Treschi, was forced to live the life of a eunuch against his will. The story follows his journey from a young child of wealth to his forced castration and finally to his rise as one of the most gifted castrati singers of his time. Always his motivation is to seek revenge on those who stole his manhood. Indeed one of the most powerful points of the book for me was the change that Tonio undergoes throughout the book to where finally he accepts what "God has given him" and accepts his place and tires of his need for revenge. I like stories of transformation and reading character arcs that change dramatically from beginning to end.

Surprising the novel also contains a lot of sexual content though it's much more prevalent in the first third of the book. Apparently some castrati were able to still perform sexually if they were castrated at a later age just before puberty. There's a lot of steamy homosexual and heterosexual content to be found in these pages.

Finally, while I think Anne Rice is a capable writer, I think the novel could have been trimmed down from its 500 plus pages. She has a tendency for some lengthy and flowery descriptions, though, it's apparent she did her research of the time and places of the era. Venice, Naples, and Rome are all well represented through the written word and come to life very well in all their eighteenth-century glory.

I would recommend this novel even though the subject matter may seem a little bizarre. I gave the novel a 4 out of 5 stars rating on Goodreads, maybe a little too generous, but the overall themes of transformation and revenge make the story a very worthy read. Thanks for the book Amy!

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