The Sixteen Pleasures by Robert Hellenga

Cover Image

Book Flap: “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 riverbanks.

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 abbess, 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.
I read this book because the author has a new book, The Italian Lover, which is a sequel to The Sixteen Pleasures. (The latest book takes place 25 years after the earlier book.) I found the aspects of book conservancy and art restoration very interesting. The author gave more detailed explanations than I expected. I’m amazed at the number of volunteers from around the world who arrived in Florence to help after the flood. Margot, the main character, comes from Chicago and discovers many things about herself and people close to her while working in the convent library and other places. It’s an interesting book. I look forward to The Italian Lover.
Here’s a link I found with photos of the flood: Florence Flood 1966