Author: Olaf Olafsson
Paperback: 307 pages
Publisher: Ecco/Harper Collins
Published date: February 2012
FTC: Requested ARC for review
Isn't this just a gorgeous cover? I always have this totally unrealistic dream of living on an Italian villa and making wine. Pair this cover with a story about a villa in Tuscany during WWII and it sounded like my kind of book. Gorgeous setting, gorgeous writing, but wow, what a sad tale.
Back of the book:
Having grown up in the exclusive circle of wealthy British ex-pats in Florence in the 1920s, Alice shocks everyone when she marries Claudio, the son of a minor landowner, and moves to San Martino, a crumbling villa in Tuscany. Settling into their new paradise, husband and wife begin to build their future, restoring San Martino and giving birth to a son.
But as time passes, Alice grows lonely, a restlessness that leads her into the heady social swirl of wartime Rome and a reckless affair that will have devastating consequences. While she spends time with her lover in Rome, Alice's young son falls ill and dies, widening the emotional chasm between her and her husband -- and leaving her vulnerable to the machinations of a nefarious art dealer who ensnares her in a dangerous and deadly scheme.
Returning to San Martino, Alice yearns for forgiveness. But before she can begin to make amends, Claudio disappears, and the encroaching fighting threatens to destroy everything they have built. Caught between loyalists and resisters, cruel German forces and Allied troops, Alice valiantly struggles to survive, hoping the life and love she lost can one day be restored.
The back of the book makes this sound as if the whole story is just from Alice's perspective but in reality there are two narrators in the book: Alice, telling her story in journal form to her missing Claudio so there's a lot of going back into the past with her, and Kristin, an artist working in Rome as an apprentice to Marshall, the art dealer, where she does restorations to paintings. Both of these women's perspectives are fascinating and they actually kind of mirror each other in certain ways.
I was expecting a WWII book set in the background of a Tuscan villa. What I got was Alice's and Kristin's stories with WWII in the background as a catalyst that brings them together and sets certain events in motion. Alice has this seemingly beautiful life with a man she loves and they've brought life and prosperity to a once crumbling villa. But she ruins it all by having an affair with a friend from her past -- she is even absent when her beloved child succumbs to an illness and dies. It's so absolutely tragic and sad. Then there's Kristin, this unbelievably talented painter from Iceland. She goes to Rome to apprentice to the art dealer Marshall, a married and (to me) mentally damaging man who uses his position to take her as a mistress. Both women got themselves into this huge mess but my heart still went out to what they were going through.
I think I almost enjoyed Kristin's perspective the best. I just really felt for her. I don't want to give it away but there's this whole thing with her and a lost Caravaggio which is really an awesome part of the story.
The World War II background in the novel is really quite fascinating as well. I was reading the Acknowledgments in the back of the book and found he did a lot of research and that this was based an actual real life story. He read the diary of Iris Origo which was published as War in Val d'Orcia. There's also a biography of Iris Origo by Caroline Moorehead. Both of these books sound fascinating. I guess I never really thought about the farms, villas, etc which had to go on trying to produce crops and feed families while a war is raging around them. There's also a lot written about the fate of European works of art which were ravaged, stolen, destroyed, or hidden during WWII. He used The Rape of Europa which has been on my to-read list for a while now.
Also Reviewed By:
Pudgy Penguin Perusals
The Literate Housewife