The Zorzi Affair by Sylvia Prince is a historical look at women’s struggle for equality and education in a world dominated by men. Set in seventeenth-century Italy during the The Scientific Revolution, the author uses the genre of the historical novel to serve as a commentator on the societal mores of the times. In the 16th and 17th centuries, modern science and the scientific method were born; the rate of scientific discovery exploded; giants such as Copernicus, Vesalius, Kepler, Galileo, Harvey, Newton, and countless lesser figures unlocked world-changing secrets of the universe. Fascinated by the changes, young Zaneta Lucia hungers for more knowledge. Faced with an arranged marriage to an older man who would enhance her families social standing, but doom her to a life without books or learning, she dresses as a boy and strikes out on her own to gain an education.
Her journey is perilous and the reader cannot help but make comparisons to the continued struggles for women’s rights to equality. The author uses a limited point of view, to let us inside thoughts and feelings of the female protagonist while shading the male point of view from her perspective. By dressing as a boy, she is able to see first hand the differences between a man’s view of the world and a woman’s view. Zaneta Lucia is often torn between her “masculine” desire for education and her “feminine” desire for love and acceptance.
In historical fiction, the writer’s relationship with a historical character is less intimate than with a fictional character. There are limits to the author’s authority, so he or she cannot know the character completely. In The Zorzi Affair, the character of Galileo is elusive and far away, so some readers may have difficulty identifying with him.
If you enjoy historical fiction in the vein of Ken Follett’s work, you will definitely enjoy The Zorzi Affair. I highly recommend it