This book has been around for a few years, actually (having been published by a different publisher) but has been picked up by Grand Central Publishing and re-released. One of my greatest pet-peeves these days is how much dribble is put out by publishers. It does my heart a world of good to see a compelling story, that has clearly been researched and worked over, re-presented to the reading public.
Artfully told and hauntingly beautiful, Villa Triste tells the fictional story of two sisters, Isabella and Caterina Cammaccio. They live in Florence with their family during World War II. The story begins on September 8, 1943, the day that Italy surrendered to the Allies. Caterina was being fitted for her wedding dress when the announcement was made. Soon afterwards Hitler launched Operation Axis and invaded the northern half of Italy, trying to keep the Allies from gaining control of the area.
The Cammaccio family's world is turned upside down as distrust grows between friends and family alike. Random arrests are being made by the Gestapo and no one knows who to trust. Many Italians tried to avoid trouble during this period of time, but many more were not content to let Germany invade and destroy. Over 200,000 Italians joined what has now become known as the Italian Resistance. They fought anonymously, organized in cell groups, to weaken the German position. Of these 200,000 Italians, about fifty-five thousand were women.
Villa Triste is a piece of historical fiction that tells us about the Italian Resistance through the eyes of the sisters, Isabella and Caterina. This book is more than just historical fiction, however. It flits between 1943-1945 and 2006 where several of the newly decorated men of the Resistance are found murdered. Who is murdering them? Why? Alessandro Pallioti, a senior policeman and detective, becomes intrigued by the past and we flip back and forth from the 1940's to the present by reading Caterina's diary of events. History unfolds, with Grindle allowing facts to slowly seep out in a manner which keeps the reader guessing as to who individuals are, what became of some of the characters, and who among them had motive for murder.
Given the fact that this book is roughly 640 pages long, Grindle has plenty of time to develop her characters. Each one is complex in their own way and it is interesting learning more about them through Caterina's diary, and the memory of those who lived during the war who Detective Pallioti interviews. Grindle also has a wonderful amount of time to describe campaigns of those in GAP - Gruppi di azione patriottica - one of the partisan groups who focused their energy on acts of sabotage and guerrilla warfare, and the one in which the Cammaccio family finds themselves involved with. The book feels delightful full of extraordinary people and situations. I really thought it was marvelously told. I enjoyed it so much I would have happily read another 200+ pages worth. I was riveted to it (finishing it in about 4 days) and sorry to see it end.
Conservative reader alert:
Note about language: The Lord's name is taken in vain about three times. I recall thinking once or twice that there a foul word, but considering the circumstances that the characters were facing, I didn't find them terribly out of place or used in such a way as to be obnoxious. My feathers were never very rumpled and I was never jarred out of the story.
Note about sex scenes: There is one. BUT! There's a reason for it. (If I told you the reason, I'd be offering a spoiler and I'm trying to avoid that.) If there ever has to be one in a book, the author should always handle it in the manner which Lucretia Grindle did. How's that, you ask? I didn't even know it had happened on first glance! There was one sentence which was not at all a tip off for me in the moment. I read on and one of the characters then referenced this subject (vaguely) and I quickly jumped back to the scene in question wondering how on earth I missed it! I could have hugged Grindle for making her point without fanfare. Beautifully done!!! You know what happened and why, but you don't know unless you really stop and think about it. Because there is not a long descriptive passage, you can note that it happened and move on.
Also, at the beginning of the book there is also reference to some pornography. It is not described in any way as to give me a mental picture of what was being seen. Beyond the first encounter with it, it does not make a follow-up appearance. In fact, I really thought that should have been left out all together but was at least glad that portion of the storyline was not further developed.
With those words of caution attached, I still have to recommend this book. It was a crazy, amazing story that set me researching the Italian Resistence online for myself for about an hour after I was done reading. (I was trying to relieve the book, see?) Loved the characters and loved the way the mystery unfolded. I'd be perfectly content and happy to read a dozen more books just like this one.
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED. THE WINNERS, (as selected by random.org), ARE #2 - JENNIFER and #23 - LISA S.! CONGRATS, LADIES!
Thanks to Grand Central Publishing (over and over again!) for shooting a copy of this book my direction. I think it's safe to say that this will be a re-read for me. I sincerely enjoyed it! Thank you also for their generosity in providing two copies for two of my readers!