by Mary Doria Russell
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.