The Secret Book of Grazia Dei Rossi

The Secret Book of Grazia Dei Rossi


  • reading group guide
The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi is a sweeping tale of intrigue and romance set in a time rife with court politics, papal chicanery, religious intolerance, and inviolable social rules. Grazia, private secretary to the world-renowned Isabella d'Este, is the daughter of an eminent Jewish banker, the wife of the pope's Jewish physician, and the lover of a Christian prince. In a "secret book," written as a legacy for her son, she records her struggles to choose between the seductions of the Christian world and a return to the family, traditions, and duties of her Jewish roots. As she re-creates Renaissance Italy in captivating detail, Jacqueline Park gives us a timeless portrait of a brave and brilliant woman trapped in an unforgiving, inflexible society.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 576 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780684848402 | 
  • September 1998
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I will begin on holy Thursday in the Christian year 1487, Eastertide for the Christians, Passover for the Jews, a perilous time for all. Until that day I had lived the eight years of my life in a child's paradise. On Passover eve Fra Bernardino da Feltre preached an Easter sermon in the town of Mantova. After that day nothing was ever the same again.

The day began for me and my little brother in the ordinary way. Awakened at cock's crow by the slave girl Cateruccia, who slept at the foot of our bed, we washed up, said our prayers, and went on to Mama's room for a sweet bun and some watered wine. This repast had been... see more

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Discussion Points
  1. In The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi, fiction and history are seamlessly woven together. Discuss how Ms. Park achieves this. What "liberties" does she take that a non-fiction author could not? What details does she use to make the world alive and vivid? How does the device of the secret book contribute to the veracity of the world?
  2. Both God and fortune are invoked by the characters to explain existence. Grazia writes, "Fortune favors the bold," and "Fortuna is never as generous as she likes to appear." She also writes, "For a time, we stood huddled together in front of the wreckage of Gallic's banco, too stunned by the vastness of God's indifference." What is the difference between fortune and God in the novel? What is the role of fortune in the lives of the characters? What is the role of God?
  3. In The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi, Ms. Park re-creates the life of the court and the great houses of the Jews. Grazia writes, "It is said that no one in Mantova, save the Gonzagas themselves, owned more elegant tableware than Rachel dei Rossi." Though the riches of the Gonzagas and the dei Rossis may be similar, their lives and values are different. In what ways do their views on money, education, and religion differ? How are they similar?
  4. In the world of Renaissance Italy, the lives of the Jews and the aristocracy are very separate yet closely entwined at the same time. How are their lives
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