From the author of the best-selling A Venetian Affair, here is the charming chronicle of his search for the identity of a mysterious old rose. Andrea di Robilant's tale takes us back to the time of Josephine Bonaparte, as well as into some of the most delightful rose gardens in Italy today, brought to colorful life on the page in the watercolors of artist Nina Fuga.
In his 2008 biography of the Venetian lady Lucia Mocenigo (his great-great-great-great-grandmother), di Robilant described a pink rose that grows wild on the family's former country estate, mentioning its light peach-and-raspberry scent. This passing detail led to an invitation for an audience with a local rose doyenne, Eleonora Garlant. She and other experts wondered if di Robilant's unnamed rose could possibly be one of the long-lost China varieties that nineteenth-century European growers had cultivated but which have since disappeared. On the hunt for the identity of his anonymous yet quietly distinctive rose, Di Robilant finds himself captivated by roseophiles through time – from Lucia and her friend Josephine Bonaparte to the gifted Eleonora, whose garden of nearly fifteen hundred varieties of old roses is one of the most significant in Europe – and by the roses themselves, each of which has a tale to tell.
What starts out as a lighthearted quest becomes a meaningful journey as di Robilant contemplates the enduring beauty of what is passed down to us in a rose, through both the generosity of nature and the cultivating hand of human beings, who for centuries have embraced and extended the life of this mysterious flower.
"The hero of this tale is a nameless Chinese rose growing in Italy. The plot – part mystery, part quest – seeks to uncover its identity. The supporting characters – among them Empress Josephine – are an array of passionate, endearing breeders and collectors. The result is a delightful hybrid of history and horticulture that traces a single flower's journey halfway across the world. Di Robilant reveals that a rose is not only a rose, but an enigma whose beauty both roots us to the past and springs eternal."
– Jhumpa Lahiri
"Reading Chasing the Rose is like taking a walk through a beautiful park. Together with the pleasure of the walk itself, you realize slowly that you are taking in the beauty and the fragrance of the plantings and their clever arrangement. You are being led gently by a knowledgeable and discreet guide who wears his learning lightly and manages to make this search for a flower into much more: the pursuit of beauty in life, a slice of history, the exploration of a subculture and of self-discovery."
– Alexander Stille
"Illustrated throughout with charming watercolors, Di Robilant's is a unique exploration of how human history often leaves its imprint in the most unexpected of places. A quiet country pleasure."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Fear not – let your eyes glaze over through the Latin-studded rose begats – and glean the tantalizing and titillating bits of history behind them that you won't find in any school books."
– Richard Frisbee, New York Journal of Books