I found Galland’s book basically well-written and fairly convincing as she carefully constructs the building blocks of Iago’s infancy, exploring his difficult relationship with his emotionally cold father, his beautiful wife, Amelia, and his doomed friendship with Othello, where we finally see the seeds of the Venetian’s propensity towards self-obsession and jealousy.
if somewhat flawed account actually intersects with the play Othello about halfway through, culminating in the infamous events on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Most of the book, however, is actually a compendium of Iago’s life right up to his captivation with the dark-skinned military general, a man entirely out of his element and yet entirely comfortable. “I am the man charged with keeping your empire intact,” remarks the stern-faced Othello, whom Iago views as the living embodiment of confidence and one who possesses that rare quality that needs no arrogance to bolster it.
In heavily-gilded Renaissance life, heirs must be able to operate smoothly in
good society. From a prestigious Venetian family (his father is a renowned silk
merchant) to his boyhood friend Roderigo, who will in turn become a wealthy spice merchant, we see Iago, from the age of ten, falling in love with learning. Furious and stunned by his father's insistence, Iago is packed off to a state-sponsored
artillery school to be trained as a master gunner, the youngest of a band of rugged men, most from foreign lands and rough-hewn cultures.
Confident in his own abilities, Iago intuits every opportunity back in Venice, taking every advantage of the pomp and circumstance and studiously observed occasions for ceremony. On orders from his brother, he attends a masked ball where, amid false laughter, gowns and masks, and fragrances, Iago cannot stop thinking of flame-haired Emilia: “she treated me as if I were an exotic, feathered bird while Roderigo was subtly congratulated for having tethered me.”
As literal and metaphorical storm clouds gather, Iago’s happiness with Amelia
is beset with years of garrison postings, where undercurrents of jealousy, misplaced desire and conflicting loyalties ferment. The mood changes when Othello’s words of victorious survival intuit the rush of winning a battle that is both applauded by the Venetian Council but hated in the wider world of “heathen provocation.” For all his faults, Othello is still viewed as the best and only protector that Christendom has from the cursed Ottoman infidels.
Amid all of 16th-century Venice's commercial, military, and cultural splendor--especially its decadent
masked Bacchanalias--Galland’s hero is caught up in a rapid sequence of events. Iago bitterly resents Othello's failure to promote him to lieutenant, which further ignites his jealousy of Cassio,
the womanizing and drunken Florentine who somehow deserves Othello’s confidence. Iago is also unnerved by the subtle hints that Othello may be sexually obsessed with Emilia, as well as with beautiful Desdemona.
Only Emilia can gently tease away her husband's growing animosity over the two people he had never heard of six months ago but who are now in collusion to sabotage his marriage and his career. Elevating Iago from the legendary pages of the famous Bard, Galland is most comfortable when portraying Iago’s angst-ridden psyche, until his lust for revenge conflates the story
and reduces him and his vulnerable nemesis to a common, brutish, murderous inhumanity.