The Life and Deaths of Blanche Nero
by Ken Brigham
Publication Date: August 1, 2016
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback & eBook
Genre: Thriller & Suspense/Historical Fiction/Mystery
At fifteen, Blanche Nero watches the electrocution of her Italian immigrant father, punishment for the inexplicable brutal murder of his recently acquired friend Old Man Flaherty. She resolves to do something with her life that values humanity over justice, mercy over sacrifice. But she is forever haunted by the mystery of her father. She is also drawn irresistibly to the bigger human mysteries of violence and death.
After a grueling but successful academic career at some of the nation’s finest university hospitals, Blanche is almost sixty. Her long career as a trauma surgeon at Charity Hospital in New Orleans has been abruptly ended by Hurricane Katrina. She takes a year sabbatical from the medical school and leases a small flat in Venice, seeking an understanding of her father in the place where he lived his formative years—and of herself by reliving and recording her own remarkable life.
On a cold morning in Piazza San Marco, Blanche meets Count Lorenzo Ludovici (Ludo) an aging, elegant, and charming Venetian who is dying of AIDS. Blanche is drawn to him and is uncharacteristically self-revealing as he introduces her to his beautiful city. As their relationship develops and his health deteriorates, Blanche becomes ever more fond of the count.
As she relives her past by writing down what she remembers, she sees the girl she was and the woman she became with new eyes: the mystery of her father’s death; her distant mother; her sometimes misguided adolescent efforts to grow up. And then discovering the thrill of medicine, especially the sensual thrill of trauma surgery and losing herself in that career, immersed in violence. She recalls her attempts at relationships, especially with Jesse Pinto, the one man whom she has ever loved, and how she ended that. She remembers her love affair with the Big Easy and Charity Hospital (the Big Free) that came suddenly to a violent end.
Through a series of painful and revealing conversations, Blanche and Ludo discover that each of them has private knowledge of interlocking pieces of their history.
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Blanche Nero's life has been punctuated by a series of important deaths. At fifteen years old, Blanche's father was executed for the killing of their neighbor. This death caused Blanche to have an interest into her father's past and sparked a curiosity for violence and death . After excelling academically in high school and college, her mother's death provides enough money for Blanche to go to Med School. Blanche is able to train with the best doctors in the field and becomes a successful trauma surgeon at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina hits, Charity closes and Blanche takes a leave to Venice. In Venice she rents a flat and befriends Ludo, or more precisely, Count Lorenzo Ludovici. Ludo is dying of AIDS, but before he goes Ludo has a secret to reveal to Blanche that will unravel the mystery behind her father's death. Ludo's death will also open up another door for Blanche to move on with her life.
From the moment Blanche's father murders their neighbor, I was pulled into the mystery of the Nero family. The name Blanche Nero literally means 'White Black.' From Blanche's birth, everything has been one or the other, black or white, no grey. Throughout the book I did wonder if her father gave her the first name of White to try to lessen the black of his name. Blanche's character lives her life very directly. The writing brought me back and forth between Blanche's present as a 60 year old woman in Venice and her past growing up in Almesboro and throughout her schooling. She is looking back at her life and examining her choices through a very mature lens. Throughout the book death and violence are recurrent themes. However, through Blanch eyes, the deaths are drawn in a different light, without much meaning or emotion, but with advancement; that is until Ludo. Ludo is exceedingly charming and a little frustrating with the slow reveal of his relation to Blanche's mystery. Ludo's dignified ways create the perfect illusion to begin to introduce Blanche to the black spot in her father's history that I couldn't even begin to piece together until the very end. In addition to the curious mystery, the Venitian culture and city is brought to life through Blanche and Ludo's travels as well as it's darker history. Overall, an engaging story that weaves together death, secrets and their impact on our lives.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
Ken Brigham is emeritus professor of medicine at Emory University. He is widely published in the scientific literature and has authored or coauthored two previous novels and two nonfiction books. He lives with his wife, Arlene Stecenko, in midtown Atlanta.
For more information see www.kenbrigham.com. You can also follow Ken on Twitter.
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