Historically founded on the seventeenth century Stradivari family, PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN is a novel about Beatrice Stradivari, a young concert guitarist, and the two men who vie for her love; of an older Beatrice who, during World War II, rescues Italian Jews by crossing the Swiss border; finally, of an aging Beatrice, who, as a Benedictine nun, Mother Ambrose, catches the interest of a novelist who falls in love with her in his imagination. In his effort to translate his devotion into a novel, he searches out Mother Ambrose's secret on the shores of Como, Istanbul, Dubrovnik, and Rome. This single novel involves three interlocking stories woven into a seamless garment: a double romance, a thriller based on a priceless formula for varnish; a memoir of love lost and repossessed. Each story takes its turn illuminating the others, and ultimately, Mystery itself. PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN is a classic for the new millennium.
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- "The writing of PORTRAIT was finished in 1991, and the novel was first published in 1995. The appropriate expression here is decades ago. The world has dramatically changed in the interval. But PORTRAIT reads as if it came out this morning. It is not dated but still feels fresh, a feat not easily accomplished by a writer. Roccasalvo has achieved it. When a portrait from twenty-five years ago is put next to one that’s current, change and contrast are obvious. Reading PORTRAIT today seems as if time has not passed: another sign of its lasting literary value. If I may restate my thesis, PORTRAIT succeeds because it is a catholic Catholic novel. I know the author may shudder at the latter “Catholic” but the prior “catholic” is what all excellent and enduring writers realize. Few marry the two c’s. Roccasalvo did so in PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN."
- Joseph Roccasalvo is the omniscient recorder of the behavior, moods, secret and overt longings of his characters. Inevitably, the woman whose portrait he offers here, issues a summons. 'You, dear reader, take close note. I am questioning you. Do you claim a soul amid the souless, the sad, diminished successful ones who wander the debris of the culture, lost? Such may yet be found.' It's the theme and the triumph of this novel. In the old-fashioned phrase, it's a story of salvation where the "successful" are mysteriously shaken and come alive.
- "Portrait Of A Woman is a renaissance for the Catholic novel. In the tradition of Waugh and Greene, Roccasalvo's novel journeys farther."
- "A stunning novel. So well-written you can't put it down and so inspiring in an original, evocative way. . . I was astounded by it."
- "A gentle, riveting portrait . . .I read this novel with great pleasure and insight. Roccasalvo knows how to make the interior life vivid through his narrative of the action of Providence in the lives of those we might least expect it."
- "Portrait of a Woman is a beautiful story. I do believe it is a challenge for a screenwriter. Of course, it would make a wonderful film."
- "Once I started your book, Portrait of a Woman, I couldn't put it down. I finished it last night. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it--truly--and I will probably go back to re-reading it a second time, I was that involved and enchanted. Bless you and I hope there'll be another novel coming out before long."
- "Portrait of a Woman is a subtle tale of high art and deep feelings, a novel in the classical form. It's as different as Schindler's List is from Casper the Friendly Ghost."
- "For all the emphasis on depth, it's the breadth of Portrait of a Woman that gives it appeal. Roccasalvo takes an intricate plot that could easily have bogged down in lesser hands, and guides us through it all in a matter of two hundred and fifty pages. It's not too late to get this novel on your summer-read list. Roccasalvo takes you halfway round the world and back without any long stopovers or jet-lag. Promise."
- "Portrait of a Woman is a fine and polished piece of work. The complex interweave of story lines combined with the variety of literary genres makes for a rich reading experience. And the almost complete absence of explicit theological discourse in what is fundamentally a religious book appeals strongly to my apophatic piety. I found myself going to the novel as to a sort of oasis from the desert of abstractions in which my mind mostly wanders. I hope the book gets the large readership it deserves."
- "What a treat Portrait of a Woman was for me. There aren't many novels of which I can truly say I had a hard time putting it down, but this is one of them. Beautifully plotted, superbly written, in every way one of the best novels I've read in recent years."
- "It was a pleasure to read a book about love that came from the heart--a love with dimensions less frequently noticed and celebrated in a world that's obsessed by physical pulchritude. I enjoyed the way Joseph Roccasalvo brought human motivations and feelings, which so often lie half disclosed, to the surface. He does a great job exposing nuances that too often go unnoticed--nuances that make life richer when exposed to the conscious mind. But that's only one of his better traits. His writing style is beautiful. The dialogue fits the personalities, the poetry fabulous, and poetry is no small feat. It makes the story engaging on multiple levels. All in all, a delightful book."
- "How does it feel to have written a classic?"
"A relationship is like a garment you put on," Philip once said. "In the way it clings or covers the body, it's another skin. The significant other is like that. Experience and background combine for an ideal fit."
When Philip had tried his theory on Eric, his friend reproached him for a Platonism gone haywire. "She's part infatuation, part hallucination. She doesn't exist. You'll be disappointed and wake up alone." Philip had held his ground. "When she and I make love," he continued, "we'll transcend our bodies and experience the totality of being."
Over the years, he listed the attributes of women whose writings he most admired: the sensuality of Colette, the intellectualism of Virginia Woolf, the earthiness of Willa Cather, the spirituality of Saint Teresa. It began when as a teenager he had read Anna Karenina and felt Count Vronsky's bliss as he saw Anna descend the stairs in her black velvet gown. Here was the essence of woman. Philip noted how Vronsky's eyes followed Anna around the room; how they watched and explored and recorded each gesture. Like Vronsky, Philip had memorized her. He, too, would repeat the experience with a living woman. He wanted his incarnation to combine lover and wife, mother, siren, and goddess. In short, he wanted it all.
So here he was at Milano's reading the poetry of a woman whose youth had passed. He had inferred her from her artifacts and invested her with multiple qualities. He had no right to extrapolate from poems, but the fluency of language, the delicacy of sentiment, the ease of rhyme and meter told him he had found what he was obscurely looking for.