Cover of the book 'In the Company of the Courtisane' by Sarah Dunant.

Lust and love in Venice

The dwarf Bucino is employed by a very attractive courtesan. It is 1527. He is her manager and her joker. She entertains and delights. Together, they lead a good life in Rome with cardinals among their customers.

When Spain and Germany conquer Rome, they start a massacre in which anything beautiful or valuable is destroyed. Bucino and his mistress flee to Venice.

With the few gems that they swallowed as their only possession, they have to start from scratch again. They carefully research the market; potential rivals, potential customers. Venice is a republic and thrives on trade. People and goods from all over the world come and go, promising a good run of customers.

Bucino manages to sell their juwels in the Jewish ghetto. They make a new start with the help of an old friend from Rome.

Bucino does not like Venice; there is too much water and it stinks. Duels are held on bridges, attracting large crowds that may easily trample a dwarf. The rules are simple: one party has to push the other off the bridge and the public watches from houses and boats and takes chances on the outcome.

In all the bustle, Bucino is plunged into a canal. A Turkish merchant saves him. He tries to persuade Bucino to come to Constantinople with him. He could become an esteemed member of the court there, because dwarves are very popular.

The Turkish merchant has to settle for a few illustrated erotic sonnets; Bucino remains faithful to his mistress.

'In the Company of the Courtisane' is an exciting and loving book, in which Sarah Dunant almost casually mentions many peculiarities about the city, such as the fact the city council celebrates the marriage between Venice and the sea every year by throwing a wedding ring into the sea.

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