Sixteen Pleasures
by Robert Hellenga

Hellenga.16PleasuresYoung woman’s adventures during the 1960’s flood in Florence; mystery, feminism, and sex.

Opening paragraphI was twenty-nine years old when the Arno flooded its banks on Friday 4 November 1966.  According to the Sunday New York Times the damage wasn’t extensive, but by Monday it was clear that Florence was a disaster.  Twenty feet of water in the cloisters of Santa Croce, the Cimabue crucifix ruined beyond hope of restoration, panels ripped from the Baptisry doors, the basement of the Biblioteca Nazionale completely underwater, hundreds of thousands of volumes waterlogged, the Archivio di Stato in total disarray.  On Tuesday I decided to go to Italy, to offer my services as a humble book conservator to help in any way I could, to save whatever could be saved, including myself.

Quotes  from critics:  ”Fascinating entertainment…with a sympathetic heroine, a suspenseful plot, a cast of colorful characters and illuminating meditations on life, art and love.” (Chicago Tribune); ”Part mystery, part romance, part guidebook . . . A lively first novel that communicates the heady peril, as well as the adventure, of Florence after the flood.” (New York Times Book Review); ”A rewarding read, with a witty heroine, a marvelous setting, and lots of fascinating detail about book conservation and the restoration of art.” (Booklist)

Bio: Robert Hellenga (1941- ) grew up in Michigan and has been teaching at Knox College since 1968.  Sixteen Pleasures was his first of six novels, published after receiving 39 rejections.  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.

Also worth reading:  Birds Without Wings