Sat, 21 Nov 2009

“The French Blue,” by Richard W. Wise, G.G.

Review by John Pollard

Just
imagine: A humble mapmaker’s son travels the ancient world, discovers
fantastic treasures, rescues a damsel and rises to the highest levels
of French aristocracy!

“The French Blue,” based on true events,
recounts the remarkable voyages of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a 17th
Century trader of precious gems best known for discovering the
phenomenal 115 carat blue diamond which later became the Hope Diamond.
The book’s author, Richard Wise, takes factual events and blends them
with plausible speculation to create a long and delightful tale; rich
in history, action and romance.

A young Tavernier sets out from
Paris in 1631, making six increasingly distant voyages across Europe,
to Persia, India and other faraway lands. For forty years he is both
trader and emissary; growing in stature as a foremost expert on
precious gemstones. In this revered capacity he is introduced to
distant sovereign leaders and gains access to mystic lands where no
foreigner has gone before.

Wise composed “The French Blue” in
first-person, drawing on Tavernier’s own writings to set the book’s
tone. This helps ensconce the reader in the story; one can almost see
the sights, hear the sounds and smell the smells of the old world as
Jean-Baptiste must have perceived them. From the battlefields of Europe
to the lands of the Great Mogul of India to the forbidden mines at Ava,
Tavernier’s exploits cover thousands of miles. And what a cast of
characters: Haughty aristocrats, powerful sheiks, cagey miners,
superstitious pearl divers, fanatical bandits, corrupt politicians and
beautiful women come alive in the book’s 56 chapters.  Tavernier’s
compatriots are a set of diverse co-stars and the heroine of “The
French Blue” is imagined as an exotic, strong-willed beauty from a
faraway land. The author takes some inventive liberties to fill out the
story, including a particularly amusing exchange with the infamous
Cardinal Richelieu, but most of the events and main characters
described are real.

The book has dozens of illustrations
including Tavernier’s own drawings of extraordinary gemstones. Wise is
an accomplished gemologist and writes from a position of authority on
the subject. His descriptions of gems, pearls and jewelry are
historically accurate and elegantly delivered. Fellow professionals
will enjoy period descriptors such as “finest water,” tales of diamonds
from Golconda, rubies from Ava, and encounters with the legendary
British East India Company. Tavernier’s clever haggling will draw
smiles from experienced gem traders: Bargaining with the poorest miners
or striking deals with the King of France, the rhythm of the trade
employs a familiar parry and thrust which echoes down through the ages.

“The
French Blue” vividly communicates the challenges Tavernier endured.
Away from home for five years at a time, he lives in alien environments
facing unexpected challenges and unimaginable risks. In those days a
chance encounter with bandits, unexpected sickness or a simple storm at
sea could quickly end a man, his business or his family fortune.
Tavernier’s ambitions dance with calamity as well as success. His
shrewd decisions and keen diplomatic abilities are matters of record
and remind us why such pioneers are worthy of the respect history
affords them.

With so much information between the covers I
(selfishly) didn’t want the forty-year saga to end. Of course the story
of The French Blue itself continues: After passing from his hands,
Tavernier’s fantastic 115 carat find was renamed, recut, stolen and
eventually crafted into the legendary 45.52 carat Hope Diamond which is
on-display at the Smithsonian today.

“The French Blue” is a true
treasure-hunt by a real Renaissance man. Professionals and novices
alike will enjoy this fantastic journey into the swashbuckling 17th
Century.

“The French Blue” website: http://www.thefrenchblue.com

“The French Blue” is also available at Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/French-Blue-Richard-W-Wise/dp/0972822364/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_2

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