Starred Review. Busy, noisy and heartfelt, this sprawling novel by Russell—a striking departure from her previous two acclaimed SF thrillers, The Sparrow and Children of God—chronicles the Italian resistance to the Germans during the last two years of WWII. Three cultures mingle uneasily in Porto Sant'Andrea on the Ligurian coast of northwest Italy—the Italian Jews of the village, headed by the chief rabbi Iacopo Soncini; the Italian Catholics, like Sant'Andrea's priest Don Osvaldo Tomitz, who befriend and shelter the Jews; and the occupying Germans invited by Mussolini's crumbling regime. In the last camp is the drunken, tubercular Nazi deserter, Doktor Schramm, a broken man who confesses to Don Osvaldo that while working in state hospitals and Auschwitz, he was responsible for murdering 91,867 people. Meanwhile, Jewish refugees in southern France, including Albert Blum and his teenage daughter, Claudette, are fleeing across the Alps to Italy, hoping to find sanctuary there. Russell pursues numerous narrative threads, including the Blums' perilous flight over the mountains; Italian Jew Renzo Leoni's personal coming to terms with his participation in the Dolo hospital bombing during the Abyssinian campaign in 1935; the dangerous frenzy of the Italian partisans; and the bloody-mindedness of German officers resolved to carry out Hitler's murderous racial policy despite mounting evidence of its futility. The action moves swiftly, with impressive authority, jostling dialogue, vibrant personalities and meticulous, unexpected historical detail. The intensity and intimacy of Russell's storytelling, her sharp character writing and fierce sense of humor bring fresh immediacy to this riveting WWII saga.
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Italian citizens saved more than 43,000 Jews during the last 20 months of World War II. Russell has transmuted this little-known history into an expansive, well-researched, and compelling novel. As the story opens, the mountainous region of northwest Italy has been relatively untouched by WWII, and even Jews have been safe. When Italy breaks with Germany in 1943 and pulls out of southern France, thousands of Jewish refugees cross the mountains in search of safety. But the German occupation of Italy poses a new threat. Even with the list that's provided, it can be hard to keep track of all the characters--Catholics and Jews, priests and rabbis, Germans and Italians, old and young, Nazis and Resistance fighters. But Russell is good at presenting the human story while never using the war merely as a backdrop for personal dramas. In fact, to mirror the arbitrary nature of survival during wartime, she has said that she flipped a coin to determine who among her characters would live and who would die. Mary Ellen Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.