"The anatomist" by Federico Andahazi.
Federico Andahazi creates a brilliant and imaginative work of historical fiction which is more centered on the fiction than the history. We follow the career of anatomy professor Mateo Colombo, two women – a rich widow, founder of an abbey, Ines de Torremolinos, and Mona Sofia, the most beautiful and expensive courtesan in Venice. All this is overseen by an ever-present crow.
Andahazi builds his two-part moral and metaphysical tale within a constantly repeated analogy. Mateo Colombo (Columbus in English) shares the last name of the more famous Christopher Columbus. The two are not related, and Mateo was born nineteen years after Christopher died. But, it is Andahazi’s contention that Mateo’s “discovery,” was every bit as world-historic as Christopher’s. Mateo “discovered” the clitoris.
I enjoyed Andahazi’s novel a great deal. It was creative, imaginative, bawdy and funny and gripping. I wondered whether he would win Mona Sofia, or would he be burned at the stake before getting a chance to try his discovery on her. It’s a quick but delightful read.
One of the strongest appeals of the novel for me was the humor. I close these comments with some of my favorite passages:
Anatomists of the time used dead bodies (as we do today) to learn and research. However, the dominant theology of his time officially prohibited the use of bodies, regarding them as sacred. Like many laws, however, it was widely ignored in practice, as long and one did it somehow beneath the surface. Andahazi writes: Since the Papal Bull of Boniface VIII had forbidden the dissection of cadavers, obtaining corpses was a job fraught with danger. And yet, in those days, there was in Padua a sort of black market of the dead. Its most solvent member was a certain Giuliano Batista who, after a fashion, had come to put things in order in this free-for-all economy. During the time of the reckless Marco Antonio della Torre, the previous Professor of Anatomy, the students had been encouraged to open graves, rifle the hospital morgues, and even take down the condemned from their cautionary gibbets. In fact, their teacher barely prevented them from murdering those who walked the streets at night. Such was their zeal that they were even forced to take precautions against one another. Such was their necrophilia that the highest compliment to which a woman could aspire in their hands was "What a beautiful body," before they proceeded to cut her throat.