In Breaking the Flood, the first of four novels about the fall of Constantinople, Niccolo Gritti, a nineteen year-old scion of an aristocratic merchant dynasty in mid-15th century Venice, recounts his upbringing, his family’s impoverishment and his decision to take ship in a trading fleet to the eastern Mediterranean. Ambushed by corsairs, Niccolo is pressed as a galley slave. Soon, a fellow oarsman identifies himself as Demetrius Angelos, member of a distinguished military family in Constantinople. Demetrius is desperate to return there, threatened as his city is by the bellicose ruler of the Ottomans, Mehmet II. Eventually, the two young men escape the corsairs’ clutches and Niccolo decides to throw in his lot with Demetrius, journeying with him to the decayed Byzantine capital. At once, Bildungsroman and quest narrative, Breaking the Flood is both vivid and haunting, recreating a forgotten world with cinematic and at times hallucinatory clarity.
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