Thursday, December 17, 2009

The French Blue by Richard W. Wise

Almost everyone has heard the legend of the cursed Hope Diamond, but did you ever wonder how it all began, who was the man behind that alluring behemoth blue diamond, what is the truth behind the myths that have been set like the ring of smaller white diamonds that surround the glittering blue mystery on display at the Smithsonian? Well, thanks to Mr. Wise, we now have a novel that nimbly toes the line between truth and literary invention and tells the life story of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier; "The French Blue" is a novel that adheres to the known facts with just a little fiction thrown in as garnish and to fill in the unknown gaps in Tavernier's life.

The son of a cartographer (mapmaker) who never got to visit the far-off and exotic places he incorporated into the maps he made, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, his wanderlust fueled by the tales of travelers who visited his father, grew up to be a savvy multilingual world traveler, a canny gem merchant with a brilliant eye for the finest stones, and a shrewd bargainer, adept at getting the best prices and reaping a profit.

Like the boy Tavernier sitting by the fire listening to a traveler's fantastical tale, "The French Blue" gives the reader the same feeling. Through Tavernier's words, this leisurely and engrossing novel gives readers a window to the 17th century, and lets us peep into a world of battlefields, bedrooms, court and diplomatic intrigues, and experience the perils of travel in the days before automobiles, airplanes, and trains, and hear the merchants, the buyers and sellers, bargain, barter, and haggle. And we get to see the cultures and customs of Persia, India, and other exotic lands, strange and unknown, sometimes even bizarre, to European eyes and ears. And then there are the gems--turquoise, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds--rough and unpolished, brought up from the bowels of the earth to be cleaned, cut, and faceted, transformed into sparkling wonders to be marveled at, gasped and sighed over, coveted and adored.

This exhaustively researched novel, assembled with the same care as a gem-cutter faceting a precious stone, has the authentic feel of a traveler's journal, however, those readers who prefer a more emotional, soul-baring narrator, may find it lacks the "poetry of the soul." But those who prefer a more factual tone, and deplore the more fantastical and lascivious embroidery worked by historical novelists, may find that "The French Blue" is precisely their cup of tea. As for myself, I just like a good story, and I found "The French Blue," with a cup of hot chocolate and a warm blanket, to be a good companion on these cold winter nights.

Special Thanks to Richard W. Wise for sending me a copy of his book.

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