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In Lucia's Eyes by Arthur Japin

A Historical Account of the One That Got Away

Steady interest in the life of historical heartthrob Giacomo Casanova has sparked a series of films as well as a collection of novels based on the life presented in his famous memoirs. Common to all of these accounts is an attempt to delve into the icon's psyche in order to reveal the motivation for his distinct amorous ways. As told through the eyes of Lucy Jamieson, In Lucia's Eyes is a historical novel about Cassanova's first love, the one believed to have set his heart ablaze. In it Arthur Japin presents a captivating story of the heartbreak that led to the development of two very distinct icons whose memories have stood the test of time.

Although Casanova's pain and womanizing ways play an important role in this story, Japin's novel serves as an improvised memoir of the life of Lucia, his first lover who was later known as Lucy Jamieson, and it is only through her story that any Casanova curiosities and revelations are fed. Lucia's story is sordid and tender, and Japin presents it in the form of a philosophical debate between emotion and reason.

An unfortunate case of smallpox leaves Lucia disfigured after her relationship with Casanova is cemented and shortly before he comes to officially take her hand. Swallowing her emotions, Lucia leaves to spare his disgust and to prevent her misfortune from ruining both of their lives. Instead she sets out on a path led solely by reason in which she faces a fate so cruel it would be impossible to survive without suppressing all feeling. Japin chooses to follow Lucia's journey through her changing fortunes, including a chance reunion with her beloved Casanova in a place of neutrality between the warring factions of reason and emotion.

Although a historical novel, Japin does a superb job of weaving Lucia's story in with the worthwhile conflict between emotion and reason, which stands as the central theme throughout the book. Secondary characters are introduced to argue the validity of each side while Lucia undergoes a transformation as she reacts to both. In the end, Lucia and Casanova adopt reason in a way that forces them to embrace love in a manner drastically unlike the innocence of their first union with one another. They each come off as very strong and relatable characters with many dimensions, and as a result Lucia's narrative is able to fully capture the reader's attention.

In addition to strong characters and theme, setting plays a crucial role in this book. Set in the 18th century throughout Europe, and with a focus on Italy and Amsterdam, each successive setting sets a distinctive tone and symbolizes a place in the progression of Lucia's struggle to come to terms with the cruel fate nature has dealt her. Japin creates a unique quality in each setting and as such it serves as an additional convention in which he is able to pull in and keep the reader.

He begins in the Italian countryside where youth and innocence unite with the rich natural landscape. Later he leads the reader throughout Italy and to the archeological site of Mt. Vesuvius where Lucia's intellectual journey is at its prime, until her final battle with the emotional world, which is fought on Dutch soil in the grimy streets of Amsterdam. With each locale Japin creates a succinct sense of 18th century European society and his novel does an exceptional job of transporting the reader to a place unlike the 21st century.

Filled with a sense of mystique and enchanting the entire way through, In Lucia's Eyes is an excellent historical novel and a great book to start off the New Year. It draws readers through an evolution of the senses as it presents a serious look at the nature of chance, beauty and love through the eyes of emotion and reason. Those wishing to skip the heavier aspects of the novel might still find within it a charming one-dimensional love story carrying the requisite sorrow and heartbreaks.

In Lucia's Eyes by Arthur Japin
Knopf
November 22, 2005
Hardback/$24.00
ISBN 1-40004-464-2
256 pages