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Monday, October 12, 2009

A Thread of Grace


A Thread of Grace
by Mary Doria Russell
426 pages

No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves
for us, there's always a thread of grace. (p421)


*** About the Book ***

There is so much going on in this book that I'm having a hard time summarizing it. So I'm going to cheat and use part of the description from the back of the book.
Tracing the lives of a handful of fascinating characters - a charismatic Italian resistance leader, a priest, an Italian rabbi's family, a disillusioned German doctor - Mary Doria Russell tells the little-known story of the vast underground effort by Italian citizens who saved the lives of 43,000 Jews during the final phase of World War II. A Thread of Grace puts a human face on history.
Seriously, I couldn't have said it better than that.


*** Why I Read It ***

Russell has written two other books, THE SPARROW, and a follow up to that book called CHILDREN OF GOD. According to THE BOOK CLUB COOKBOOK, her first book is an excellent way to introduce non-SciFi fans to the genre. As a SciFi fan, I'm always looking for books that will do this so of course I picked it up. And I loved it. Then I read CHILDREN OF GOD and loved that one even more. (I reviewed both books on this blog but it was way back in the beginning of blogging and my reviews were really just for me back then.) Russell's writing style and characterization are phenomenal. When I found out that she'd written an historical fiction novel set during World War II, I knew I had to read that book as well.

September was my month to lead the online discussion at Reading With Becky's Google Group so I chose this as the group's read. It was the excuse I needed to finally read the book.


*** My Thoughts ***

This is an amazing book. As I said above, Russell's writing is phenomenal and this book certainly did not disappoint. I shared several quotes here that really jumped out at me; they give you a taste of Russell's writing and the impact of her words. This book is not an easy read; it takes concentration and effort. The multitude of characters and locations, the occasional comments in Italian or German, and the way the story moves from person to person all mean that you have to give this book your undivided attention or you will be completely lost.

The story is told in the present tense and it works well in this case. It conveys a sense of immediacy, of being right there as events are unfolding. And in at least one case it allows you to be in the head of a person who suddenly dies.

Speaking of death, Russell is not afraid to kill off characters, even major ones, and I respect her for that; it makes the book so much more real. It was heartbreaking to read about the deaths of people I'd come to care about but at the same time it drew me even more into the story. There was one situation where I literally covered my mouth with my hand in shock when I realized one particular character had died - I certainly didn't see that one coming.

This is a book whose stories will stay with me for a long time. It was worth all the effort it took to read and I will definitely be keeping it as part of my permanent collection (a rare honor in my house!).

One more thing - at times this book reminded me of SUITE FRANCAISE, by Irene Nemirovsky, or at least, what SUITE FRANCAISE could have been had the author lived to finish it. If you liked that book you will definitely like A THREAD OF GRACE.


*** The Real History ***

The author's note in the back explains that the stories in the book were all based on actual people and events in Northern Italy between 1943-1945. Russell did extensive research for this book; she even traveled with a Jewish refugee from the era as he retraced his journey through Northern Italy during the last 20 months of WWII. Much of what she learned is incorporated into this book. If you want an historically accurate novel, this is the book for you.

As a side note, VioletCrush and I discussed this book in the comment section of one of her recent posts. At the time I thought that part of the story would revolve around concentration camps in Italy but that didn't end up being the case. This book does examine the Jewish experience in Italy, just not in the Italian camps. But I stand by my recommendation of this book as a way to learn more about Jews in Italy during WWII while enjoying a well-written and gripping story at the same time.

*** Your Thoughts ***

Does this sound like something you'd like to read? Do you like your Historical Fiction to be extremely accurate, or does that not matter to you? Any thoughts you'd like to share?

Other review can be found here:
  • Quotidian Grace - she give a bit more of the plot in her review than I did - she also loved this book
  • Your review could be here! Let me know where to find it and I'll add you in.

23 comments:

Nicole said...

This sounds really good. I like reading books where there isn't safety for any of the characters. I think that we are s used to main characters being above death that it does create a sense of the artificial.

For the most part I like it when historical fiction is grounded in fact, but I also want the author to remember that I am not there to read a history book. Factual doesn't have to mean dry. I also like when the use the information available to create realistic thoeries and supposition of what likely happened.

Heather J. said...

Nicole - This book is definitely not dry, but it is not an "easy" read either. It takes concentration and effort to keep the multitude of plots straight but it is very worth it in the end.

Quotidian Grace said...

Heather--

Many thanks for the link. I really enjoyed your review as well. Thanks also for introducting me to your blog, it is very interesting!

Heather J. said...

Quotidian Grace - Thanks for coming by! I was thrilled to find another review of this book to link to - it seems not many people have blogged about it.

Kathleen McCleary said...

Heather: I read The Sparrow and it freaked me out so much I literally had to put it outside on the back porch so it wasn't in my house. I couldn't read Children of God after that. I think she's a terrific writer, but found the images and actions in The Sparrow so disturbing I'm not sure I'd read another of hers. I'm kind of afraid of her.

Erika Robuck said...

Ooh, that's sounds right up my alley. Thanks for the review!

Violet said...

I agree, it must have taken real courage to kill of major characters. This book is already on my wishlist bcoz of our chat the other day, thanks for the review :)

Heather J. said...

Kathleen - Russell's pacing in THE SPARROW and the sense of foreboding she creates throughout that book really got to me too. I couldn't sleep one night b/c I kept worrying about what would happen, and ended up reading almost all night to find out. A THREAD OF GRACE doesn't have that same feel, but there are some horrifying things that happen in it.

Erika - You're welcome!

Violet - I hope you can find a copy of it sooner rather than later.

Ti said...

I remember liking The Sparrow quite a bit and I don't mind it when you have a work at it a bit to get into the book. As long as it pays off in the end I usually don't mind the extra work.

bermudaonion said...

I do like my historical fiction to be accurate, but I don't want my reading to be work.

Heather J. said...

Ti - You might really enjoy this one then.

bermudaonion - You, on the other had, would likely not enjoy this one. :)

2 Green Acres said...

Hi - I have read all of these books, and Thread of Grace was my least favorite - although I still liked it.

My book club read The Sparrow and we can never remember the name of the book, so we called it "Jesuits in Space". :-)

Heather J. said...

2 Green Acres - Thanks for coming by and sharing your opinion. I just checked out your blog and I will definitely be spending more time there!

Tam @ Bailey's and Books said...

I just finished reading The Postmistress for the B&N First Look, and immediately thought I wanted to read more non-fiction and historical fiction on WWII.
This sounds like a great read.

Literary Feline said...

I've heard such great things about this book. I am glad to hear you enjoyed it so much, Heather. I haven't yet read anything by this author, but I have The Sparrow sitting in my TBR collection.

Heather J. said...

Tam - There are SO MANY excellent books about WWII. Check out the reviews at the WWII Challenge blog for some great recommendations: http://warthroughthegenerations.wordpress.com/book-reviews-wwii/

Literary Feline - The Sparrow is an amazing book, but as I mentioned in one of the comments above, there is a sense of foreboding. As Dreamybee said in her review, you know from the start that Things Did Not Go Well. I highly recommend it though - and Russell's other 2 books as well.

Alyce said...

After following the discussion at VioletCrush's site I immediately put this book on my paperbackswap list. It's sitting on my shelf right now, and I hope to get to it soon (probably after the new year).

Heather J. said...

Alyce - I was so excited when I saw on one of your posts that you had received it from PBS. I'll definitely look for your review down the road. ;)

Kailana said...

I really need to read this! I have owned it for quite some time now...

Heather J. said...

Kailana - What ARE you waiting for dear?! :)

Anna said...

This sounds fascinating. I hope to read it at some point. Thanks for linking to the challenge, and I'll get your review up there soon. (We're a bit behind, and my recent computer issues haven't helped!)

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Heather J. said...

Anna - No worries, update the challenge blog to it when you can. But do add this to your reading list - I highly recommend it!

Anna said...

We posted your review on War Through the Generations.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

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