One need not be a devotee of Shakespeare to appreciate Romeo and Juliet. The iconic love story, based on Italian lore, caught fire with audiences in the 1590s; more than 400 years later, forbidden romance and family drama resonate just as clearly with audiences today.
Author Anne Fortier puts her own twist on the tale of “star-cross’d lovers” with her debut, Juliet. She brings to light events of the 14th century, starring feuding families Tolomei and Salimbeni—characters who are believed to have inspired Shakespeare’s Capulets and Montagues. Chapters oscillate between Romeo and Juliet in the year 1340 and the book’s main character, the contemporary Julie Jacobs.
Julie, who makes her living directing Shakespearian drama at a summer camp in Virginia, commences the adventure of a lifetime when she receives news that the aunt who raised her has passed away. Julie’s inheritance is a letter, penned by Aunt Rose, that alludes to a fortune awaiting her in Italy if she is willing to treasure hunt. Equipped with a key to a safety deposit box that once belonged to her mother, Julie heads for the Tuscan hills. The letter cautions her to travel under the guise of her given name, Giulietta Tolomei.
Julie’s long-lost identity is news to her. The further she digs into her family history and uncovers her relationship to the Juliet that inspired the litany of literature, the more thrilling her quest becomes. In Siena, she is pursued by thugs, duped and drugged, and strung along into her own seemingly ill-fated romance. There’s no end to the list of ruffians who pop up, convinced that Julie knows the whereabouts of ancient riches.
Fortier’s ambitious story merges past with present in a rare feat of seamless writing. Based on historical fact and poetic license, Juliet is a fast-paced, sumptuous read. Fortier’s razor-sharp framing of time and insight into her characters make the wholly original Juliet so much more than just another adaptation.
Watch our video interview with Anne Fortier.