In the waning days of Venice's glory in the mid-1700s, Andrea Memmo was scion to one the city's oldest
patrician families. At the age of twenty-four he fell passionately in love with sixteen-year-old Giustiniana
Wynne, the beautiful, illegitimate daughter of a Venetian mother and British father. Because of their
dramatically different positions in society, they could not marry. And Giustiniana's mother, afraid that an affair
would ruin her daughter's chances to form a more suitable union, forbade them to see each other. Her
prohibition only fueled their desire and so began their torrid, secret seven-year-affair, during which they
enlisted the aid of a few intimates and servants (willing to risk their own positions) to shuttle love letters back
and forth and to help facilitate their clandestine meetings. Eventually, Giustiniana found herself pregnant
and she turned for help to the infamous Casanova – himself infatuated with her.
Two and half centuries later, the extraordinary story of this star-crossed couple is told in a breathtaking
narrative, re-created in part from the passionate, clandestine letters Andrea and Giustiniana wrote to each other.
While working in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, Andrea di Robilant came across a curious map
of the North Atlantic published in 1558. It was attached to the back of a small book with an alluring title:
On the Discovery of Frislanda, Estlanda, Engroveland, Estotilanda, Drogio and Icaria under the North Pole.
It turned out to be a travel narrative describing the fourteenth century journey of two Venetian merchants
and navigators, the brothers Nicolò and Antonio Zen. Both the book and the map had had a great impact on
late Renaissance geography and cartography. Queen Elizabeth herself relied on the Zen narrative to establish
the foundations of a British Empire in the North Atlantic. But in the 1830s a Danish admiral stunned the world
by denouncing the book as one of the great forgeries of all time. Forty years later a report by the chief
geographer of The Royal Geographical Society reached the opposite conclusion, and what had long been
considered “one of the greatest puzzles of all literature was no longer a puzzle at all.” But the stain of forgery
never really went away and the story of the Zen brothers gradually faded into oblivion. Part travel narrative,
part investigative history, Irresistible North brings back to life this fascinating yet baffling Venetian saga
as Andrea di Robilant follows the footsteps of Nicolò and Antonio Zen from Venice to Orkney, Shetland,
the Faroes, Iceland and as far as Greenland. read more
A charming chronicle of his search for the identity of a mysterious old rose. Andrea di Robilant's tale takes us back to the time of Josephine Bonaparte, as well as into some of the most delightful rose gardens in Italy today, brought to colorful life on the page in the watercolors of artist Nina Fuga.
In his 2008 biography of the Venetian lady Lucia Mocenigo (his great-great-great-great- grandmother), di Robilant described a pink rose that grows wild on the family's former country estate, mentioning its light peach-and-raspberry scent. This passing detail led to an invitation for an audience with a local rose doyenne, Eleonora Garlant. She and other experts wondered if di Robilant's unnamed rose could possibly be one of the long-lost China varieties that nineteenth-century European growers had cultivated but which have since disappeared. On the hunt for the identity of his anonymous yet quietly distinctive rose, Di Robilant finds himself captivated by roseophiles through time–from Lucia and her friend Josephine Bonaparte to the gifted Eleonora, whose garden of nearly fifteen hundred varieties of old roses is one of the most significant in Europe––and by the roses themselves, each of which has a tale to tell.
What starts out as a lighthearted quest becomes a meaningful journey as di Robilant contemplates the enduring beauty of what is passed down to us in a rose, through both the generosity of nature and the cultivating hand of human beings, who for centuries have embraced and extended the life of this mysterious flower.