Friday, June 19, 2015

Review: THE LOVER'S PATH by Kris Waldherr

In the intricate, exuberant manner of the Renaissance art to which it pays homage, Kris Waldherr's lavishly illustrated novella THE LOVER'S PATH tempts and tantalizes the reader into a unique reading experience. Originally released as a print book in 2005, Waldherr has recast her tale of forbidden love as an interactive iPad e-book. Convincing in itself, the fictional confession of a female musician's journey on the path of true love gains a patina of authenticity from the nest of maps, scholarly articles, museum brochures and other ephemera which encompasses it. The result is an intriguing artifact that blurs the boundaries between word and image, fact and fiction, myth and lived experience and haunts the reader's thoughts long after the screen goes dark.

The kernel of Walderr's book is Filamena Ziani's personal narrative, purportedly published in 1543 and dedicated to the musician's patroness on the occasion of her wedding. Wishing to demonstrate that, in order to truly love another, it it necessary to follow the lover's path wherever it might take one, Filamena reveals her own story. Orphaned in infancy, she is raised by her older sister Tullia, a famed Venetian courtesan. Tullia's assiduity in securing generous patrons allows the sisters to live in luxury, yet Tullia yearns to provide Filamena a future independent of the favor of men. Accordingly, she confines her sister to the house and limits her interaction with guests. Chafing at these restrictions, Filamena schemes to use her voice to win the patronage of a visiting cardinal. Her plan founders when Angelo, the cardinal's illegitimate son, falls in love with her after hearing her sing at Tullia's feast. Filamena surrenders her heart to this youth who sends her a book of maps and myths to guide her along the path of love. Fueled by startling revelations and mistaken identities, events mount  to a bittersweet conclusion, one that ultimately teaches Filamena that, though the world be "a place of wondrous complexities, of unreasonable sorrows and unimaginable triumphs," it can never part her from the love she finds along the path.

Waldherr takes pains to create an aura of authenticity around Filamena's confession. She models Filamena's voice on letters and dialogues penned by Renaissance women writers. Weaving archetypal stories throughout Filamena's tale, she provides the allegorical commentary typical of sixteenth century narrative. Her stunning visual design evokes an unmistakable Renaissance aesthetic in its scrollwork borders, illustrated capitals, and fanciful section markers, elements that counterbalance the more modern sensibility of the book's lavish illustrations.

Waldherr's efforts to further an illusion of authenticity do not end with the material of the narrative itself. In a daring creative ploy, the author creates an elaborate extra-textual scaffolding to validate Filamena's sixteenth century world. The book opens with a letter from the supposed curator of the Museo di Palazzo Filomela that discusses Filomena's life in its historical context and celebrates the present book as the first English translation of her original Italian work. Following the story, the interactive article "About the Museo" outlines the museum's history as Filamena's former residence and provides a map that ingeniously displays the book's archetypal illustrations as frescoes on its gallery walls. By clicking on various rooms, the reader may examine artifacts from Filamena's life "currently on display," such as her travel journal and a decorated violin. The assurance that additional artifacts and documents will join the current exhibits as soon as they are uncovered contributes to the unsettling feeling that this museum, and the life it chronicles, might just perhaps be real.

So convincingly does Waldherr present her material, I must admit I did a little Googling to make sure  the book, the museum, and Filamena herself were but the products of the author's fecund imagination. My admiration for Waldherr's impressive talents quickly overcame my disappointment at never being able to visit the Museo di Palazzo Filomela in person. Yet I can, and will, return to Filamena's imagined world again and again. Obtain a copy and travel THE LOVER'S PATH for yourself. This marvelous e-book is as seductive and satisfying as the love it purports to relate.

[Please note: Only the iPad edition of THE LOVER'S PATH is interactive. The other e-book formats contain identical content, but without the interactive features. ]

You can learn more about THE LOVER'S PATH and how to order at For a deeper look at Kris Waldherr's books, art, and apps, visit her website.