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  • The Sixteen Pleasures
  • Written by Robert Hellenga
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  • The Sixteen Pleasures
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  • The Sixteen Pleasures
  • Written by Robert Hellenga
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9781616955809
  • Our Price: $15.95
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List Price: $15.95


On Sale: September 01, 2009
Pages: | ISBN: 978-1-56947-811-0
Published by : Soho Press Soho Press
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fiction (143) italy (57) florence (35) historical fiction (19)
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"Mud angels" is what the Italians call the selfless young foreigners who come to Florence in 1966 to save the city's priceless art from the Arno's flooded rivrbanks.

Margot Harrington is an American volunteer, an expert at book conservancy. While struggling to save a waterlogged convent library, she discovers a fabulous volume of sixteen erotic drawings by Giulio Romano that accompany sixteen steamy sonnets by Pietro Aretino. When published more than four centuries earlier, the Vatican had insisted all copies be destroyed. This one—now unique—volume has survived.

The abbes, with wonderful aplomb, prevails upon Margot to save the order's finances by selling the magnificently illustrated erotica, discreetly. Meaning: without the bishop's knowledge.

The young American's other clandestine project is a middle-aged Italian who is boldly trying radical measures to save endangered frescoes. She is 29 and available; he, older and married. He shares her sense of mission and then her bed in this ambrosial story of spiritual longing and earthly desire.
Robert Hellenga

About Robert Hellenga

Robert Hellenga - The Sixteen Pleasures
Robert Hellenga teaches at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, six Illinois Arts Council Artists Fellowships, an Illinois Arts Council Literacy Award, and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award.


Praise for The Sixteen Pleasures

“[It] will beguile you, seduce you, spirit you away into another world.”

“A wonderfully rich and absorbing story that seems far too assured to be a first novel.... Hellenga knows just how to build a story. The suspense he manages to create in a book auction scene rivals that of any thriller.... Absolutely compelling.”
Kirkus Reviews
About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Guide

In this highly acclaimed bestseller, 29-year-old American book conservator Margot Harrington arrives in Florence, Italy, to save the water-logged library of a Carmelite convent. In her work, she uncovers The Sixteen Pleasures, a curious, centuries-old volume of sixteen erotic drawings coupled with sixteen steamy sonnets that sets off a flame of controversy throughout the Catholic Church, and changes Margot's life in ways she never imagined.

About the Author

Robert Hellenga teaches English at Knox College in Illinois. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, two Illinois Arts Council grants, and a PEN Fiction Award. The Sixteen Pleasures is Hellenga's first novel, for which he did extensive research in Florence and took a bookbinding course at the Newbury Library. The idea of including The Sixteen Pleasures in his fictional story of Margot Harrington began in jest, as there are many, many jokes throughout English literature on this erotic Renaissance book. Somewhere along the line, it became the engine of the book. The character of Margot was inspired by Hellenga's three daughters, all of whom have traveled extensively and told him of their experiences. It took Hellenga three years to write The Sixteen Pleasures and another three to get it published. He is currently doing research in Bologna, Italy, for his next novel. He lives in Illinois with his wife and three daughters.

Discussion Guides

1. What factors contributed to Margot's decision to go to Florence to become a "mud angel"?

2. Margot's mother comes up throughout the novel. What bits of advice from her mother does Margot remember? What lasting effects does the affair between Margot's mother and Bruno Bruni have on Margot? Discuss what you think Margot's relationship to her mother was.

3. The Sixteen Pleasures contains vivid descriptions of the restoration of some Florentine frescoes as well as the intricate details of book conservation. Discuss how these details enrich the story.

4. In what ways is The Sixteen Pleasures a coming-of-age novel?

5. Margot's love interests, first Jed Chapin, then Sandro Postiglione, are quite different types of men. Discuss how these characters are contrasted in the book.

6. Margot's stay in the Santa Caterina convent introduces her to the lifestyle of a Carmelite order. What life lessons does she learn there and how does her experience there change her?

7. Madre Badessa, the mother abbess of Santa Caterina, is a strong female character with an agenda to preserve her convent. Discuss the measures she takes to do this. Do you think she is a feminist?

8. The Sixteen Pleasures is told from alternating points of view: Margot narrating some chapters and an all-knowing narrator telling others. Discuss how this is an effective technique to tell the story.

9. Margot's relationship with Sandro is somewhat unconventional, as is Sandro's relationship with his wife What compromises, if any, does Margot make to be with Sandro. Do you think it's worth it in the end. Does Margot?

10. The Sixteen Pleasures takes place in 1966. Discuss aspects of the novel that feel contemporary and those that feel old-fashioned.

11. Foods, arts, sexuality, and spirituality are interwoven in The Sixteen Pleasures. Is there a commentary on the philosophy of pleasure here?

12. Margot briefly considers a life in the convent. In the end, she decides against it. Which do you think is the saving grace of life for her, art or religion?

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