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Monday, February 7, 2011

"Cenacolo" Means Refectory and Suspense

Title: Cenacolo Author: Joseph Orbi
Category: Historical fiction
ISBN-13: 978-0966161984

Reviewed by Cedrick Demus

Browsing through a bookstore, one finds hundreds of books that have “da Vinci” in the title. Most of these books deal in one way or another with the creative legacy of the so-called “great Leonardo.” You even find cooking books that detail recipes by Leonardo da Vinci, including some with meat, surprising because, according to most everything written about da Vinci, he was vegetarian.

And so I confess that I stayed away from any “da Vinci” title for years, especially after the “Code” which was all fiction and had very little to do with Leonardo. Such was my dislike for anything to do with da Vinci that I hesitated for weeks reading a book given to me by a friend entitled Cenacolo, written by Joseph Orbi. Big mistake.

“Cenacolo” means a refectory, or, dining-hall, the main setting for this terrific suspense historical fiction novel about Leonardo da Vinci at the time he was living in Milan. It is also a generic term for “the Last Supper,” the famous da Vinci mural at the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Milan.
Cenacolo is historical/fiction at its best, a brilliant, masterful blend (history being about 85% of its content) and reflects in every way the 30 years Mr. Orbi spent researching Leonardo. It gives the reader a fabulous account of everyday life in Italy at the time, and a good idea what the real Leonardo da Vinci was like; very little like he’s described in biographies and history books. In fact, in the novel the “great” Leonardo has only three things in mind – which I will not mention here – and let’s just say none of them had to do with the brush.

One of the amazing features of Cenacolo is that unless you are a historian you will, most likely, be unable to tell where history ends and fiction begins.

The novel, published by I. O. Twomey, Ltd., runs 238 pages and is not about how da Vinci created the “Supper” (although the author gives the reader a very good idea what went wrong), but how things can get very complicated and dangerous regardless of good intentions. The book also includes drawings by the famous artist and one by his “student,” a boy Leonardo called Salai (according to the publisher, some of the drawings were retouched for dramatic effect).

The back cover mentions that... “the main characters are some of the giants of the Renaissance; Leonardo da Vinci, Machiavelli, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan; and Çesare Borgia. Orbi depicts them “not like the mythical figures they became, but as they were, men driven by passion; working, loving, striving and simply trying to survive...”

Like a great orchestra conductor, Joseph Orbi directs the action of the novel and allows for events to provoke the imagination. One chapter leads to another with increasing suspense and you may spend a few sleepless night because there is a good chance you won’t put the book down until you find out how Leonardo “gets even,” and that doesn’t happen until the word just before “The end.”

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