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A Thread of Grace

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Set in Italy during the dramatic finale of World War II, this new novel is the first in seven years by the bestselling author of The Sparrow and Children of God.

It is September 8, 1943, and fourteen-year-old Claudette Blum is learning Italian with a suitcase in her hand. She and her father are among the thousands of Jewish refugees scrambling over the Alps toward Italy, where they hope to be safe at last, now that the Italians have broken with Germany and made a separate peace with the Allies. The Blums will soon discover that Italy is anything but peaceful, as it becomes overnight an open battleground among the Nazis, the Allies, resistance fighters, Jews in hiding, and ordinary Italian civilians trying to survive.

Mary Doria Russell sets her first historical novel against this dramatic background, tracing the lives of a handful of fascinating characters. Through them, she tells the little-known but true story of the network of Italian citizens who saved the lives of forty-three thousand Jews during the war’s final phase.

The result of five years of meticulous research, A Thread of Grace is an ambitious, engrossing novel of ideas, history, and marvelous characters that will please Russell’s many fans and earn her even more.

442 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 2005

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About the author

Mary Doria Russell

18 books2,988 followers
Mary Doria Russell is an American author. She was born in 1950 in the suburbs of Chicago. Her parents were both in the military; her father was a Marine Corps drill sergeant, and her mother was a Navy nurse.

She holds a Ph.D. in Paleoanthropology from the University of Michigan, and has also studied cultural anthropology at the University of Illinois, and social anthropology at Northeastern University in Boston. Russell lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband Don and their two dogs.

Mary is shy about online stuff like Goodreads, but she responds to all email, and would prefer to do that through her website.

Photo by Jeff Rooks

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,595 reviews
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,053 followers
June 19, 2019
A Thread of Grace tells the story of the Nazi occupation of a region of north east Italy. It begins with an uprooted community of Jews in southern France who have to flee France across the Alps when the Italians sign the armistice. It’s essentially the story of how these refugees fare in Italy.
When I discovered Mary Doria Russell had invented all the locations in the novel I was a bit dubious as so often this is a trick writers use to mask the sparseness of their knowledge. But the thoroughness of the research in this novel and the beautiful lightness with which it carries it is breathtaking. This is no The Nightingale where one felt the author had spent two weeks in France, had no knowledge of the language beyond oui and merde and had read a couple of books on the war and watched a few films. Russell has an intimate knowledge of Italy, Italians and every aspect of her material which is impressively wide. She sets herself the task of telling the story from all sides – so the cast of characters is expansive: we have the Gestapo, Wehrmacht officers, a chief Rabbi, Catholic priests, Nuns, a German deserter, partisans, fascists, an English SOE officer, children, mothers, fathers and grandparents. Were I to be hyper-critical I might say there were too many characters and as a result it was difficult to emotionally bond with any one specific character. It didn’t though bother me though I can imagine it might try the patience of some readers. Sometimes you have to read back to remind yourself who someone is, not helped by a couple of characters changing their identity. Only other nitpick was now and again a character would deliver a history lesson – in those times propaganda was rife and no one knew for certain what was happening so when a character gives a detailed account of what exactly German divisions on other fronts are doing or what Allied tactics were it jarred a bit. The majority of WW2 novels tend to do this. I’m reading the journal of an Italian partisan at the moment and despite being very well connected she doesn’t have much of a clue what’s going on in the war. It’s all rumours. I suspect fiction has contributed to the notion we now have that many more people knew about the Holocaust while it was happening than in reality did. My partisan woman certainly knew nothing about it. It’s a fascinating subject in itself how fiction begins to alter our perception of historical events.

So A Thread of Grace is a tremendously enjoyable novel with no other pretensions but to tell a fabulously well-crafted story (and into the bargain pay homage to the humanity and bravery of the Italian people in helping a persecuted friendless people in need). Most beguiling of all its characteristics was the love with which this novel was written. You could feel that heartbeat of love on every page.

Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,204 followers
October 4, 2021

“Santino, the peasants—the contadini—will they help strangers?”
“Si, certo, signore.”
“Even Jews?”
“We’re all human beings, signore. Even Turks and Africans.”

For those who love historical fiction, especially about WWII, you will be taken in. By its very nature as a war story, as a story of the Holocaust, it’s brutal and sad beyond words. I cried many times. But as the title implies, there are many threads of grace among the many characters and I was heartened.

While this is fiction, the novel is impeccably researched and reflects the goodness and courage of the Italian people who saved thousands of Jews . It should go without saying, but we have to remember.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews28 followers
July 18, 2020
This was a challenging read in terms of keeping track of all the characters.
My biggest interest was with the fictional characters and the pure storytelling.
I did my share of googling historical facts....and let other parts fly over my head.
The last half of the book was were my deepest emotions were felt.

I was distracted-on-and-off with our 2020 pandemic-daily-news’.
At times the competition was fierce. Eventually I surrendered to ‘teeter-tottering’ between our current world crisis and WWII.

It’s so strange to think I know more now about World War II, (connections between the Italians and the Jews), than the ongoing effects of the coronavirus.

I loved how Mary Doria Russell began this book ...
teasing us with a desire to know more:
Austria 1907
“This was what everyone would remember about his mother: her home was immaculate. Even in a place where cleanliness was pursued with religious zeal, her household was renowned for its faultless order. In Klara’s mind, there was no gradation between purity and filth”.
“She had sinned as a girl,
made pregnant by her married uncle. Adultery stained her soul black, and God punished her as she deserved. Her sin child died”.
“So did her aunt, Klara became her uncles newest wife, dutifully raising her stepchildren, keeping them very clean and very quiet, so her uncle-husband would not become angry and bring out his leather whip. Her husband was no more merciful than her God”.
“Her Second son died, and then her small daughter. Soon after she buried little Ida, Klara became pregnant again. Her fourth child was a sickly boy whose weakness her uncle-husband despised. Klara was ashamed that her children had died. She hovered over the new baby anxiously, told him constantly that she loved and needed him, hoping that her neighbors would notice how well he was cared for. Hoping that her uncle-husband would come to approve of her son. Hoping that God would hear her pleas, and let this child live”.
“Her prayers, it seemed, were answered, but the neighbors were bemused by Klara’s mothering”.

“In adulthood, Klara’s son would have nightmares about suffocation. He would suck on a finger in times of stress, for stuff himself with chocolates. he was obsessed with his body’s odors and became a vegetarian, convinced that his diet reduced his propensity to sweat excessively and improved the aroma of his intestinal gas. He discussed nutritional theories at length but had a poor appetite. He could not watch others eat without trying to spoil their enjoyment. He’d call broth ‘corpse tea’, and once pointed out that a roast suckling pig looked ‘just like a cooked baby’”.

“The very blood in his veins was dangerous. There were birth defects and feeblemindedness in his incestuous family. His uncle-father was a bastard, and Klara’s son worried all his life that unsavory gossip about his ancestry would become public. He was frightened of sexual intercourse and never had children, afraid his tainted blood would be revealed in them. He was terrified of cancer, which took his mothers life, and horrified that he had suckled at diseased breasts”.
“How could anyone live with so much fear?”

“He could not change his china-blue eyes, but he could change the world they saw”.
“He would free Europe of pollution and defilement— on my health and confidence and purity and order would remain!”
“The doctor who could not cure Klara Hitler’s cancer was Jewish”.

Set in northern Italy between 1943 and the end of the war in 1945.... soon after Mussolini was overthrown.
Then Germany invaded.

I’ve read other books about how the Italians were true heroes in helping hide Jewish refugee families.
To this day I hold a special spot in my heart for Italy and the Italian people who helped the Jews in ways no other European country did.

When you step into this novel you know you’ll walk down terrifying paths—
Russell gave us epic, textured characters, violence, history, depravity, mayhem....
she also gave us a story to savor ... a little thread of grace.

Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,510 followers
February 14, 2013
I simply loved this moving rendering of life in northern Italy during the long period of Nazi occupation after Mussolini stepped down. It is the story of two families of Jewish refugees who hide out in the mountains with the support of Italian peasants and poorly equipped partisan fighters of diverse origins. The tale is well researched and very satisfying in revealing the strengths of a community and the ability of the human heart to thrive under great challenges.

At the beginning of the narrative, thousands of Jewish residents and refugees in coastal towns near the border with France make the decision to cross the mountains to the north and hide out in the rural country of the piedmont portion of Italy. The book dwells on the life of a 15-year old Belgian refugee girl, Claudette Blum, travelling with her middle class father. Hardship and losses cannot quell her spirit, nor keep her from falling in love with a former Italian soldier, Santino, who helps them cross the mountains. Both find a pathway to serve the resistance network. Other key characters include a former Italian Jewish airman, an Italian Rabbi, a priest, a nun, and a deserter German doctor. The story brings to life their experiences and moral choices, along with their successes and failures in endurance and sacrifice. The prose is largely invisible and transported me very vividly into the rural environment and social discourse of characters I could root for.

As you can see from the box on the map, the site of the story is the region between Genoa and Nice (the towns are fictional). At the start in the Fall of 1943, the Allied invasion of Italy was bogged down south of Rome, and from then until the end of the war they only got as far as the middle of Italy (the “Gothic Line” on the map). During this nearly two years, the Nazis were free to try to carry out the “Final Solution” for the Jews of northern Italy, which the former Fascist government had been reticent to accede to. However, the resistance curtailed that effort, with the consequence that nearly 45,000 Jews were saved and “only” about 5,000 were nabbed and sent to the death camps. Through ambushes and sorties, the partisan fighters inflicted about 20,000 casualties on the German forces, thus making a valuable contribution to the war effort by diverting German troops from defense against the Normandy invasion.

The SS used their usual tricks of terrorist intimidation. They pushed for a policy that for every soldier killed, 20 residents from the closest village would be slaughtered in response, and anyone harboring a rebel or a Jew would be shot. Fortunately, few regular German soldiers carried out such policies, but when such atrocities were enacted, it took community courage and resolve to continue resisting. At one point the Rabbi wonders: “I keep asking myself why was it so different here? Why did Italians help when so many others turn away?” He recalls to a nun a saying in Hebrew: “No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there’s always a thread of grace.”

From the four books of hers I've read, Russell seems to me a gifted and versatile writer who puts her training in anthropology to good use in her skilled approaches to elucidating the essence of our humanity in the face of challenges.
Profile Image for Lorna.
683 reviews366 followers
April 24, 2023
An autographed copy of A Thread of Grace: A Novel has been tucked away in my library for too many years. This stunning and meticulously researched historical fiction narrative by Mary Doria Russell follows the lives of a few very fascinating characters during the final years of World War II. This ensemble of characters included a charismatic Italian resistance leader, a priest playing an integral role in the resistance, an Italian rabbi and his family, many nuns caring for orphans and displaced people in remote convents, and a disillusioned German doctor questioning his decisions. As the book opens, we are introduced to fourteen year-old Claudette Blum learning Italian as she and her father are among the thousands of Jewish refugees making the treacherous trip over the alps toward Italy where they hoped to find safety. It was the bravery and the generosity of these Italian people that saved countless Jewish people when Italy broke ranks with Germany after Mussolini fled, making a separate pact with the Allied forces. And this is their poignant and unforgettable story.

In the Author's Note at the conclusion of the book, Mary Doria Russell closes with an inscription chiseled on the marble memorial stela erected in the Borgo San Dalmazzo in 1998 by the Jews of Saint-Martin-Vesubie in honor of the people of Valle Stura and Valle Gesso:


This was such a powerful book on so many different levels. And perhaps one of the most breath-taking codas in historical fiction. In closing, I would just like to repeat the words of Italian Rabbi Iacopo Soncini at the conclusion of the narrative:

"There's a saying in Hebrew, 'No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there's always a thread of grace.'"
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book488 followers
June 30, 2020
No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there’s always a thread of grace.

Between 1943 and 1945, Germany occupied Northern Italy, a country where many of Europe’s Jewish population had come to flee death camps and murder. This is the story of those Jewish families and the people of the region who sheltered them, at great risk to their own lives and property. It is a story that is told perfectly. It is one I had never heard before. Knowing Italy was an ally of Germany and that the Catholic church’s official stance was “neutrality”, I had no idea the extent of the sacrifices made in Northern Italy to protect and defend the innocent, the involvement of the Catholic church in this effort, nor the extent of the partisan activity meant to combat the Nazi menace.

There are many characters whose lives contribute to this story, among them a Jewish Italian aviator, a wife of a Rabbi, a young Jewish girl fleeing her homeland, a Catholic priest, and a German doctor. War is a recipe for heartbreak and suffering, and these five encompass all the hurt, regret and terror that such an uncontrolled horror can inflict. Perhaps no time in the history of man is peopled with more unadulterated evil or self-sacrificing good than World War II. Perhaps no one will ever adequately explain to those left behind the bravery of some or the viciousness of others.

Lidia Leoni knows now why men love war. To plan together, to be audacious. To fear, and risk, and win! To triumph over contemptuous conquerors! What could be more thrilling?

But this is not the thrill of war, this is the reality of it--the blood, the loss, the decisions that ache in their making.

Mary Doria Russell is undoubtedly one of the most versatile writers of her age. She is at home with any genre, approaching every subject with such understanding and emotional believability that she transports you to the time and the place and makes you one with her characters. And, therein lies her power, for she writes, whatever her subject matter, about what it is to be a human being; what it is to experience love, fear, longing and despair; what it is to hope, to lose God or to find him.

May God guide us all from war to justice, from justice to mercy, and from mercy to peace.
He reaches for the small Bible he keeps on his desk for easy reference. Holding it in one palm, he opens his hand and lets the book fall open where it pleases. “I cannot go where God is not,” he whispers, and draws a finder down the text, stopping midway down a column in Psalms.
‘I hear the whispering of many, terror on every side,’ he reads, ‘But I trust in you, O Lord.’

I wept copiously at the ending of this novel. I wept for all the wasted lives, all the misjudgement, and all the vanquished hopes of a generation of innocent people. I wept for those who battled so long and hard, who were denied the victory that finally came. I wept for the sorrow God himself must have felt to see such atrocities become so commonplace. I wondered, what have we learned? Enough?

This goes into my favorites folder, along with so many other of Russell's works. Every time I read something she has written I want to scream at everyone I see "READ THIS!"
Profile Image for Kristi  Siegel.
192 reviews588 followers
June 29, 2010

Some of the best scenes in literature:

1. The Idiot - mock execution

2. Macbeth - Act 5; Scene 5 - Macbeth's world is crashing around
him when he hears of his wife's death. He remarks, laconically, "She
should have died hereafter," and then delivers what might be the most perfect lines in literature:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

...Nowhere in literature is despair and futility communicated better.

3. Invisible Man - Liberty Paints Factory or battle royal

4. Flannery O'Connor - too many to list

5. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Janie telling Joe Starks, "When
you pull down yo' britches, you look lak de change uh

The few examples above come from "Tier One" literature. While this sounds hierarchical, I guess I do view books in general categories. For example, though Mary Doria Russell is an excellent writer, she doesn't make my Tier One list. And, I'm no elitist, but I'd be willing to bet most of us have some sort of invisible line that separates truly great literature from the rest. Then, there is schlocky literature and those books - like Glenn Beck's recent foray into literature (and I'd rather check out Hell for a few days or rip my face off than read The Overton Window) - that are beneath contempt.

However, in Tier Two literature (very good but not great), Russell's scene between Werner Schramm, an SS deserter, and Father Osvaldo Tomitz, an Italian priest, is absolutely unforgettable. Schramm has been dogging Osvaldo for some time, hoping to have him hear his confession. [If you consider this excerpt a spoiler, don't read it.:] Osvaldo wants nothing to do with Schramm, but Schramm persists and starts by asking Osvaldo a number of questions concerning faith, and then begins his confession:
"A priest's office is to instruct the faithful!" Schramm shouts. [Osvaldo is disgusted but resigns himself to hearing the confession.:] ...

"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, he says when he can speak again. "I have murdered 91,867 people."

Osvaldo laughs. You're joking, this laugh says. You can't be serious! "Ninety-one thousand," he repeats. "Eight hundred..."

"And sixty-seven. Yes."

The number is absurd, but Schramm does not laugh. [Schramm tries to makes excuses, to clarify the situation, but Osvaldo cannot comprehend; it is beyond belief.:]

Osvaldo looks at Schramm, at the goat, at the diamond studded-sea in the distance. Mind racing, he tries to imagine what he can possibly say to this...this demon. His mouth opens. No words emerge. He lifts his hands, drops them, and begins to walk over.

"Wait!" Schramm calls. "You must-- What is my penance?"

Osvaldo turns and stares. "Mein Gott, Schramm, what did you expect? Rosaries?" Bending suddenly, leaning hard on hands that clutch his knees, Osvaldo chokes back vomit. Trembling, he lifts his eyes. "Shoot yourself."

I've eliminated both parts of this scene and its ending. It has to be read in its entirety.

The book's title is perfect, for grace does thread its way through this book. Though the plight of the Italian resistance, Jewish refugees and many others in this book prompt situations that are wrenching, the book is uplifting as well.

A poignant and memorable read.
Profile Image for Antoinette.
755 reviews39 followers
May 20, 2023
A brilliant depiction of the ravages of war but also the humanity of the ordinary people.

It is September 8, 1943- Italy has surrendered to the Allies, but the war is far from over. so much fighting within its borders- the Germans trying to take over Italy, the fascists who are still siding with Germany and then we have the Italian resistance, trying to reclaim their country.

Jewish people are filtering into Italy. Why? Because the Italians are protecting them, at their own risk.
An Italian tells a Jewish refugee: “We’re all human beings,signore. Italians don’t hate strangers, signore. We hate the uncle who screwed us out of an inheritance.”

We meet some dynamic characters in this book: Renzo- an Italian resistance leader, who is struggling with guilt of his own; Don Osvaldo Tomitz, a Catholic pries, who is horrified after he hears a confession that he does all in his power to help; Suora Marta, a Catholic nun, who becomes involved protecting and hiding Jewish children; Rabbi Iacopo Soncini, who is torn between protecting his wife and children and helping the refugees; Claudia Blum and her father, Albert, Jewish refugees, who are touched by the generosity and love of the Italian people; Santino Cicala, an Italian soldier who just wants to keep Claudia and her father safe and last Werner Schramm, a German doctor who has deserted, is ill and is living with unimaginable guilt. There are so many other people we meet in these pages- the ordinary peasants who are all doing their parts.
These stories are woven together by the ever brilliant author. She puts human faces and emotions on all these people. It was an honour to meet them all.

The ending is oh so perfect but oh so devastating. An important question that ther Rabbi voices: “Why did Italians help when so many others turned away?” How true and impactful is that.

“There’s a saying in Hebrew” the rabbi says. “No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there’s always a thread of grace.”

A brilliant book in every way possible. Thank you, Mary Doria Russell, for opening my eyes to this piece of history of which I was unaware.

Published: 2005
Profile Image for Laysee.
501 reviews233 followers
April 16, 2018
"No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there's always a thread of grace." -Mary Doria Russell.

A Thread of Grace is an important and informative historical novel by Mary Doria Russell that tells a true story of the courage and sacrifice of ordinary Italian citizens who saved the lives of forty-three thousand Jews between 1943 and 1945 in the last phase of WW2.

The Axis forces have begun to crumble. Italy has surrendered and signed the armistice. For uprooted Jews living in Italian-occupied southern France, a new death knell has just sounded. With the retreat of the Italian forces, the Germans are marching in. The only escape is to flee over the Alps to Italy.

A brigadier, the first of innumerable kind Italians, supplies Claudette Blum (age 14) and her father, Albert, with Italian passports to aid their flight. Santino Cicala, an Italian soldier, makes it his personal objective to help the Blums cross safely to Italy. It is heartbreaking to see hordes of frightened families, many with young children, risk their lives scaling impossible mountain terrains in a bid to save themselves. The old, too feeble to flee Sainte-Gisele, are predictably killed. The sweet moment arrives when the Blums cross into Italy and Santino whispers, “Welcome to my home.” The locals witness emotional reunions. ‘People weep with relief, boast of unexpected prowess in mountaineering, laugh giddily when they tell of terrifying encounters with pursuing Germans, who turned out to be squirrels or chamois.’ The hotels go out of their way to welcome, feed and accommodate the tsunami of Jewish fugitives. Reading these episodes where goodness abounds is uplifting and renders the horrible plight of the Jews a little more bearable.

However, the relief is short-lived.

A Thread of Grace is an ambitious novel. Owing to its length and structure where the scene shifts alternately between France and Italy, it takes some effort to track and follow the large cast of characters. It bothered me that I did not know what happened to Santino, whom a priest rightly calls ‘a good soul’ who ‘wears his love like a crown’, except that he died just like anyone else.

As one would expect of a war story, A Thread of Grace is a difficult book to read. However, despite the carnage, the impression one is left with is that of generosity and grace. There is so much evil; there is also so much good. A thread of grace may be thin but it is strong and sufficient to succor the weary and restore some faith in humanity. This is an important story worth telling. Thank you, Ms Russell.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,767 followers
January 28, 2015
Once again, I have an outstanding work of historical fiction to thank for teaching me about a time, events, places and people I knew virtually nothing about—that I didn’t realize I wanted to know anything about. Mary Doria Russell, with her uncanny ability to wring gorgeous stories out of dry facts, brings wartime Italy to my living room.

In the fall of 1943, Italy surrenders to the Allies and thousands of Jewish refugees from across the diaspora pour into the country, just as German occupation forces advance. A Thread of Grace show us what was won, and what was lost, by those who sought and offered shelter.

Russell fictionalizes a town and a cast of characters, but all is wholly believable from this gifted researcher and anthropologist. The threads are many, and the cast of characters is large, but at the center is WWI hero, cynic, alcoholic, Renzo Leoni, a Jew who assumes several identities as he infiltrates the Nazi occupiers, supports the Resistance, and hides the refugees.

But what’s striking about this cast is their sheer ordinariness. These are shopkeepers, housewives, rabbis, grandmothers, foot soldiers, teenagers. There is nothing in their backgrounds that would make them inherently courageous and noble; in fact, they risk their very security and stability—what little there is in the face of German occupation—to aid strangers.

The author set herself a daunting task: to bring dense historical fact to life, to convey the complexities of faith and resistance to faith, and to provide backgrounds and personalities to a multiplicity of characters. At times, the narrative sinks under the weight of history, and I found myself frequently flipping to the front list of characters to remember who was doing what, where, but balance is found in the vivid and fascinating people whose threads are woven together in a tragic-comic tapestry.

Most compelling to me were the intersections of faith and ethnicity—to watch Italian Jews interact with others of their faith, but not of their nationality—to witness the compassion and confusion of Catholics, to understand Italy as a newly-united nation of tribes and dialects, trying to sort out its future as a struggling whole.

My favorite actors are rarely those who take top billing at the box office. They are the character actors who disappear into their roles, making us forget that we are watching fiction unfold on the screen. That’s how I feel when I read Mary Doria Russell’s novels—she conjures these human beings who lift from the page and assume a three-dimensional, flesh and blood grip on my imagination, inhabiting the space that craves connection with a world beyond my reach.
Profile Image for Katie.
268 reviews335 followers
July 3, 2021
I loved The Sparrow but was disappointed by its sequel. This novel by Mary Doria Russell is set in World War Two Italy (except the locations are all made up) and recounts the experience of a number of imperilled Jews but for me it only came to life in fits and starts. There was too much chit chat. Too many characters. Too many history lessons. Too much theological debate.

I think sometimes an author can love her characters too much and believe them more compelling than they are, the love that is blind to everything going on around it. Considering this is a novel about Jews trying to elude the Nazis there's a want of dramatic tension and action for most of the novel. Too often she is telling us detailed information of what is happening elsewhere in the war. Information that takes us out of the moment. I thought setting the novel in a make-believe setting was a cop out too. If you're going to include so much that is historically accurate why make a fiction of the places? It was an incongruity that never quite settled comfortably. As if she was insecure about her authority. Her prose is accomplished but it never contains a thrill.
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,770 reviews332 followers
April 30, 2018
Audiobook performed by Cassandra Campbell

Russell’s third novel leaves space and the future, and instead looks back on WW2 and the Italian citizens who saved the lives of thousands of Jews; not only their neighbors but refugees coming from other countries. It opens in September 1943, with fourteen-year-old Claudette Blum and her father. They’ve already fled Belgium and are in Paris, when they need to move once again. This time they will cross the Alps on foot, led by an Italian soldier. Eventually they are taken in by a farm family and come to know the villagers in the area. As the war progresses over the next few years we meet a large cast of characters that includes a German doctor who regrets his past, an Italian rabbi and his family, a priest, a British paratrooper, and a charismatic Italian resistance leader.

What a story! Based on true incidents, Russell’s tale draws the reader into the lives of these many people. She gives us examples of true courage, from the fighters actively engaged in battle, to the grandmothers who carried messages or the Catholic nuns who sheltered Jewish children in large orphanages. I fell in love with these characters. Russell doesn’t sugarcoat the sacrifices and dangers they faced, nor does she make them saints.

They squabble, succumb to temptations, and waver in their determination. They are also courageous and fiercely resistant to the evils of the Nazis. Out manned and out gunned by the Germans, this “army” of citizens nevertheless shows discipline and ingenuity when fighting. Their huge advantage is their intimate knowledge of the terrain and their fierce loyalty to one another.

This is a war story, so I knew there would be death and destruction. Even though I expected this, some of these scenes brought me to tears. Russell tempers the sadness and horror with moments of great tenderness and even humor.

I was lucky that I chose to listen to this audiobook while on a long road trip. I finished the 17-hours of listening in two day’s driving. Cassandra Campbell does a superb job performing the audiobook. She is a gifted voice artist and really brought the story and these characters to life.
Profile Image for Lewis Weinstein.
Author 9 books496 followers
February 28, 2012
A fantastic story of Italian resistance during WWII, including the incredibly brave efforts of Italian Catholics to save Jews. Beautifully written. Emotional. Well researched.

The story begins when Italy surrenders to the Allies, which is followed immediately by a brutal German occupation, which in turn triggers further Allied ground attacks and bombing. Russell brilliantly presents the grinding unrelenting pressure caused by this series of events, including the fanatical pursuit of Jews by the Germans, even to the detriment of their rapidly deteriorating war aims.

The characters are extraordinary and memorable ... Italian priests and nuns, Italian Jews, refugee Jews, Nazis, partisan fighters, all caught up in an enterprise they know is ultimately useless. The Allies will win, but Hitler refuses to give up, and many must therefore die for no purpose.

But, as the Italian rabbi says towards the end of the story, "No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there's always a thread of grace."

Much of Russell's historical basis for the story comes from
Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families Under Fascism ... another fine read.
Profile Image for Jen.
688 reviews28 followers
January 16, 2009
I read this book during the holiday season but find myself thinking about various scenes at odd moments. I'll be brushing my teeth, and suddenly, I'll be on the Ligurian coast of Italy while a German deserter confesses to the local priest that he is responsible for over 91,000 deaths. I'll be on the edge of sleep, and as I close my eyes I'll see a toddler learning to walk when suddenly the bombs start to drop. I'll be driving and will be visited by one of the kind visions of an Italian soldier wooing a Jewish escapee as they climb the Alps.
Doria Russell's characters are so well-developed and her research put to such good use that I feel like I have a much better understanding of the European front during WWII. Did you know that the Italians managed to hide over 43,000 Jews during the war? What was different about the Italians? This novel will give you a few answers.
One of the best novels I read in a long while, I would have to recommend this to all of my reader friends. Do yourself a favor and read A Thread of Grace when you get the chance. You'll thank me.
Profile Image for Mark.
1,374 reviews104 followers
May 15, 2020
It is fall of 1943, and Jewish refugees are fleeing occupied France, into northern Italy, although this axis country just surrendered and the Nazis are moving in. Thanks to the incredible kindness and daring of a network of Italian citizens, they are able to shelter these refugees, despite incredible odds. The story focuses on several different characters, on all sides, giving a
vivid picture of this dangerous period.
MDR has delivered again. She is six for six, for me. Here, she has directed her skillful sights on a little known chapter of WWII history, with her bold, writing style, uncanny characterization, and her usual meticulous dive into the research involved. It took her seven years to write this magnificent novel. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Melanie.
273 reviews132 followers
October 20, 2019
I finished this a bit ago but had no idea what to say. There is so much going on. I never knew this part of WWII history. The Jews amaze me with their strength and will. The Italians amaze me for their bravery. I loved the characters. My only qualm is that at times it got a bit wordy. When it did I skimmed just a bit :).

Excellent story!
Profile Image for Noel.
829 reviews34 followers
April 10, 2009
This was very interesting at times, but most of the time I just read in a state of confusion. Way too many characters and way too many plotlines. This book needed some careful editing, and perhaps it could have been 2 stories or the historical parts written a bit more clearly. I can't quite put my finger on what it was that didn't work, but having read many WWII books, this one just didn't cut it for me.
There is no Status entry for RIP - but that is what this fine book is now doing. It met its demise at the hands of an overflowing pot of beans. It all started when my mother-in-law advised me to soak beans overnight with a bit of baking soda. When I forgot the overnight bit, I thought I'd be clever and just boil them for an hour with plenty of baking soda. Having slept through elementary science class, I had no idea that I was creating a volcanic eruption like none ever seen in a classroom, and off I went to do some laundry. My dog's frantic barking and a mysterious odor drew me to the kitchen where there it was. A flow of bean lava coming out of the pot, onto my counters, down the side of my cabinets and into my shoes, taking with it this book. The bean mush was thick, hot and bubbly and wound up everywhere. So ended A Thread of Grace.

Profile Image for Cheryl.
968 reviews101 followers
December 4, 2009
Set in Italy during World War II, this novel interweaves the stories of Jewish refugees, ordinary Italian citizen/rescuers, the Nazis, and Italian resistance fighters. Despite the fact that this book is fiction, it provides many historical details about the role of the Italian citizenry in the rescue of Jews. The characters are well developed and unforgettable, the story is engrossing. A great read for anyone who likes to read about this period of time.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,923 reviews1,258 followers
September 12, 2010
Damn it, Mary Doria Russell made me cry again!

Culture class is once again the culprit, although this time it's Nazi anti-Semitism versus the Italian resistance instead of Jesuits and scientists versus aliens on Alpha Centauri. A Thread of Grace begins with Italy's surrender to the Allies, and from the Jewish perspective of the book, this is one of history's great ironies. It's a relief that Italy has surrendered; to be sure, this is a turning point in the war. Jews in the Italian-occupied territories were safe from the Nazis, but now the Italian army is going home. Many Jewish families choose to accompany it over the mountains, but when they arrive in Italy, they find the Germans are there too. So much for the war being over.

Irony is recurrent in A Thread of Grace, often as the companion of macabre humour. Most of this book is obvious and predictable. It's easy to guess that Claudette and Santino will fall in love; it's obvious that Stefania is the missing Steffi; when Renzo and his elderly mother team up to free Iacopo, is it really a surprise when she doesn't make it out alive? Tragedy meets the main characters at every turn, and the attrition rate is incredibly high, even for a war novel. But this irony and predictability work in tandem to ramp up the pathos. It's called foreshadowing. We know bad things will happen, because that's a given for any story, doubly so for WWII novels. But we start having an inkling of what specific fates await these characters, all of our characters. As the story draws toward a close, these foreshadowed fates tighten their grasp around our hearts, refusing to let go. Claudette, the stalwart widow; Renzo, embracing irony to the end; Osvaldo, a flawed priest with so much courage.

These are all characters worth our time and empathy. I'll admit, sometimes they seemed to blend together. (This might be a result of every character having about seven different names and endearments; now I understand why we get a dramatis personae.) But it's worth the effort to distinguish between the characters and understand their individual sorrows.

Claudette is, as I mentioned before, a widow. Well, she starts as a precocious fourteen-year-old, marries young, and becomes a widow. The war takes from her all her family, beginning with her mother (though she doesn't acknowledge it for a long time), then her father, and finally her newfound husband. Before he leaves her to turn himself in for the "crime" of killing several Nazis who were gang-raping a young woman, he and Claudette conceive a child. Lest you accuse MDR of any false sentimentality, however, I'll disabuse you right now: the child is prematurely born and dies soon after. This is not a book about miracles; it is a book about humility in the face of great catastrophe.

Renzo is one of my favourite characters. He is the trickster of the group, always ready with a confidence game or deception to trip up the Germans. In particular, he loves disguises, to the point of establishing an alternative Aryan identity of "Ugo Messner." This leads him to an unfortunate and ironic end at the hands of his fellow countrymen, who recognize him only as Ugo and not Renzo when the time comes to punish the Germans who don't manage to retreat. But it's not all fun and games for Renzo. There is a deeper sadness about him, a melancholy made evident by his attachment to alcohol. He is literally and deliberately drinking himself to death over his guilt for bombing a Red Cross hospital in Abyssinia. The action continues to haunt him as he helps coordinate the resistance. Renzo is a man for whom happiness comes only in the momentary joy that accompanies children playing; long-lasting contentment and peace, he knows, is forever beyond his reach.

Schramm is less likable, in that he is a former Nazi and readily confesses to sharing some of their ideology. It's not clear how much of that ideology he has renounced; certainly he struggles with long-held views on the mercifulness of euthanizing the mentally ill and weak. His most memorable scene is a confrontation with Mirella. First he reassures her that malnutrition was not the cause of her second child's Down's syndrome. Then he goes on, unfortunately, to mention that the child's accidental death was a blessing, for no one with Down's syndrome could live a fulfilling life, and children with such conditions just drive families apart. Mirella fumes at such an assertion. Schramm doesn't mean to upset her or to proselytize Nazism. He's just internalized, through his medical training, these beliefs, to the point that they are present and on the tip of his tongue.

I could go on at length about other characters, but the above three were my favourites. It's a shame that MDR did not extend their complexity and depth to her antagonists. The Germans representing the occupying forces are a joke. Von Thadden is the intelligent but oblivious general who moves for mysterious reasons and ends up dead because of it. Reinecke is the competent but unimaginative aide. And Arthur Huppenkothen (AH!) is the caricature of an uptight Gestapo who takes his loyalty to the Führer and the Vaterland entirely too seriously. Even the tone in which these characters are written is bumbling and supercilious. This is something that could work well in another type of WWII novel, but it really undermines the emotional chord that MDR maintains throughout the rest of the book. I just can't take von Thadden or Huppenkothen seriously, even if they are villains who order reprisals against civilians.

Likewise, the Italians and Jews we meet are reluctant heroes or neutral to the partisan cause. Just once I would have liked to see a collaborator, someone who sided with the Germans out of fascist solidarity. Battista comes close, being a fascist and somewhat temperamental, but it's clear he's closer in allegiance to the partisans than to the Nazis. This is a peculiar omission in an otherwise well-rounded story.

The plot, you'll notice, I've largely avoided discussing, because it's not at all remarkable. It's just the minutiae of these characters' struggles to survive under German occupation and repel the Germans from Italy. There are a few memorable scenes, such as Schramm's aforementioned confrontation with Mirella and the subsequent scare with the undetonated bomb. For the most part, however, they are generic misfortunes. This seems to be an artifact of how MDR wrote the characters to stand for all refugees and all partisans; A Thread of Grace is an unapologetic microcosm for the humanity and succour the Italians extended to the Jews. I just wish the characters were more reified, less archetypal.

Yet I found myself tearing up at the end of the book. It's not sappy, and it isn't even very sentimental. MDR does her best to pull out all the stops; the protagonists lose family, friends, and fortune. This unrelenting commitment to the worst possible scenario makes the book work, preserves the eponymous "thread of grace" as an act of compassion, limited in its abilities rather than a panacea. It's not going to work out all right, and pretending otherwise would be insulting. A Thread of Grace is moving precisely because it acknowledges this part of the tragedy of World War II. It is a reminder that when big gestures fail and fixing the problem isn't possible, sometimes you just have to do what you can. Sometimes it won't be enough. But once in a while, you make a difference.

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Profile Image for Linda Hart.
733 reviews139 followers
August 4, 2018
I was deeply moved by this story and am impressed by Mary Doria Russell's ability as an author. She has created characters that one can't help but love and care about. Favorite quote, and summation of the book's message ....“No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there's always a thread of grace.”
I will never forget the incomprehensible struggle of crossing the Alps to freedom (short lived) and Italy in 1943.
This is a beautiful but painful book that will stay with me for a long while.
more favorite quotes:
“God save us from idealists! They dream of a world without injustice, and what crime won't they commit to get it! I swear, Mirella, I'll settle for a world with good manners.”
“The world is filled with unreasonable hate. What's wrong with unreasonable love?”
“I suppose I should warn you, Padre. In the absence of male supervision, my mother has become a revolutionary." ~Renzo Leoni”
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,763 reviews1,218 followers
October 11, 2008
What I loved:

For once I was able to thoroughly enjoy a historical fiction book without wondering what was real and what was fiction.

This is a character driven story and everyone in the book seemed genuine. I especially enjoyed the poignant sensibilities of the children and adolescents.

I’m a sucker for maps and this book had a map of real places and one of fictional places that were within the real map’s area. There was also a handy characters list at the front of the book. I found myself referring to both of these frequently and found the character list indispensable, especially because a few of the characters went by more than one name.

It was so refreshing to see a book about World War II that’s about Nazi occupied Europe (in this case Northern Italy) where the populace helped Jewish citizens and refugees and partisians too, and where Jewish people often helped themselves and also often contributed significantly to the fight against the German occupiers. (At times it reminded me of another great Holocaust era novel: The Book Thief, which shows ordinary German citizens who help a Jewish man/Jewish people in Germany during the same Nazi era.)

There was actually much humor.

The book had a compelling message about what trauma can do to people and also made me think (more) about elderly people and what they might have been like when they were younger. I also thought the portrayals of the people's motivations and changes they experienced seemed very authentic.

I loved the meaning of the title A Thread of Grace.

I did think this was a fine novel and I appreciated the research that went into writing it.

What I didn’t like a lot but was okay:

I knew a bit more about this book than I would have liked before I read it, so I won’t say a lot, but I will say that it’s a book about a brutal war so the reader can expect a lot of carnage.

There are so many characters and there were a lot of times where I grew very attached to a character and then they didn’t appear again for many, many pages; there are a lot of subplots; in this book I guess the plot is a bunch of subplots as no single one really stood out for me.

What I didn’t like:

No, Hitler was not a vegetarian. I didn’t like that this book perpetuated that myth.


Because of this book, I'd like to read more history about this area of Northern Italy during World War II. I'd also love to visit the area, even though I'd enjoy the cuisine of Southern Italy much more. It will have to be armchair traveling for me.
Profile Image for Kristy Miller.
405 reviews85 followers
April 24, 2023
The beauty and emotional complexity of this book never fail to astound me. It doesn't matter how many times I read it.
*July 17, 2018*
Years ago, when I was still working at Borders, I came across a paperback book on the front tables as I was straightening up. The cover caught my eye, and I picked it up to read the back. It was set in northern Italy, towards the end of World War II, and I decided to make it my book of the week. At that point Italy was my favorite country that I’d visited, and I have been obsessed with World War II stories since I was a girl. That book, Thread of Grace, was to become my favorite book, and Mary Doria Russell became my favorite author.

The book follows the story of several characters, starting on the day Italy surrendered. Having always been welcoming of others, and not really caring about religion, Italy was flooded by refugees, but it is now a country occupied by the Germans. We meet Claudia and her father, who climb the alps from France with the aid of an Italian soldier, and seek shelter with a poor mountain family. We follow Renzo, a Jew and former bomber pilot, as he, his mother, and his rabbi neighbor and family deal with the German’s new interest in Italian Jews. Mixed in with these main characters are others in the community; Duno, a young Polish refugee who is tired of running; Don Osvaldo and Don Leto, local priests; Werner Schram, a German doctor who has abandoned his post; and German officers and SS leaders trying to deal with now uncooperative Italian people. Together, these characters weave a tapestry of love, resilience, heartbreak, and the horrors of war.
Mary Doria Russell’s two greatest strengths in writing are her research and her characters. She spends years doing meticulous research as she writes her books. This makes the wait between them seem unending, but the result is worth it. Her stories are rich in detail and scope, and make you feel like you are completely immersed in the story that her characters are living. The characters she writes are as rich as the landscape they fill. You feel like they are sitting across the table, and telling you their story on their own. They have personality, history, depth, and heart.

I can’t tell you how many times I have read and listened to Thread of Grace. It still moves me, and brings me to tears. It is probably not her best book; that would be The Sparrow, which I also recommend. But it is my favorite of her books, by far.
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Alaska).
1,287 reviews423 followers
February 5, 2017
First, I inferred from the GR description that this is the story of Claudette Blum. It also states there are a handful of characters. Claudette is one of dozens of characters and, although the story returns to her throughout the book, I think there are others who appeared more prominently and importantly in the narrative. I only say this so that you might rely less on the GR description than on many of the other fine reviews here.

We often hear of the French resistance. Why not the Italian resistance? This is an important story that ought to be told over and over, yet I've encountered it so late in life. The story is not just that the Italians hid or protected Jews, but that there was also a large and organized network of active, militant partisans. They were brave people who did what they thought was right in the face of brutality.

My favorite character was Renzo Leoni, a Jew, who had been a pilot for Italy in Abyssinia and whose memory was his own personal demon. I shouldn't forget Renzo's widowed mother, Lidia, who knew that "old black crows" were so ignored that they could accomplish what younger, more attractive women couldn't. Or German deserter Werner Schramm and his confessor Osvaldo Tomitz, who couldn't grant absolution for Schwart'z 91,867 murders. There were so many more - perhaps not superbly drawn, but well enough to be distinct, and well enough to you'll want for their survival. Not everyone survives in war, of course, and each loss was hard for me.

Another reviewer says this doesn't make her top tier in literature and it doesn't make mine either, but only because it's not "literature" not because it isn't worth reading. This rises just above the line between my 4- and 5-stars, wherever that fictitious line rests on any given day.
Profile Image for Donna.
3,903 reviews21 followers
September 30, 2018
I have read 2 books by this author before this one. I liked them both. Her books always seem to take a fair amount of research. She does that well. Authenticity hasn't been a problem with her. I also enjoy her characters. They are purposeful and well drawn.

The main problem I had with this book was not only the number of characters parading through this, but the multiple story lines. There was so much going on. Usually I don't mind that. But this was a book I wasn't able to sit down and read in one whack. I picked it up several times throughout the day and it was hard to remember where I was exactly. So three stars.
Profile Image for Joseph Sciuto.
Author 8 books126 followers
May 13, 2023
There is something so beautiful about this novel, and that statement alone might seem like a contradiction because this book is about the German occupation of Italy, 1943-1945, after the Italians surrendered to the allies.

To be sure, it is not the humanity that the Germans showed toward the Italians, even though I am quite sure there was a trifling of the German population that was appalled by Hitler's behavior and the way millions of his minions carried out some of the most deplorable behavior known to mankind.

The beauty that runs throughout this book is the humanity that exists between the Italian Catholics and the Italian Jews (and other Jews who escaped over the Alps and into northern Italy). The Germans, true to form and not wanting to disappoint the Führer, continued their genocidal policies in Italy like they did everywhere they went...even when it cost them battlefield loses such as in the Ukraine.

The Italian Catholics and Jews formed 'cells,' among themselves in the northern towns of Italy to fight the Germans, to survive until the allies finally defeated the Nazis. Rabbis gowned the vestments of priests, Jewish women wore the garments of Catholic nuns and taught in Catholic schools, Jewish mothers housed and fed the Italian partisans fighting the Germans and Communists. Jewish children and adults were given Italian last names and forged identifications.

Religion did not divide these two groups. In a very real sense, it provided cover and safety. It is the humanity that both these groups showed toward one another that is so absolutely beautiful about this book. It is their cohesive humanity and their fight against real evil that gave this reader real hope for the future of all mankind.

This is the best novel I have read this year. It is based on actual events and whereas this book is a real page turner, with a vast variety of great characters, I purposely read it slowly because this is a work of art by Ms. Russell that deserves careful analysis and attention to all details.
Profile Image for Anita Pomerantz.
648 reviews106 followers
February 18, 2019
Let's start off by saying that this book was not my cup of tea. While I enjoy historical fiction, A Thread of Grace was too much history, and not enough strong novelization for my taste. With a cast of 44 characters (thank god for the guide to them in my Kindle edition), I found only two to be satisfactorily developed: Mirella and oddly, Werner Schramm, a German doctor. The rest I really didn't care about at all, so while the end was quite dramatic with several major characters dying; it didn't have the impact it could have. The last 20% of the book really could have been amazing, but it wasn't set up in a way that maximized the emotional impact. It didn't help that several important characters also used aliases. I literally must have referenced the character guide over 100 times while reading the book. Perhaps that says more about me than the book, but it was unnecessary.

There were some moments of great writing I will admit, but the highlight, by far, was the prologue. It was absolutely riveting. Really, it should be used in writing classes.

And as a Jewish person, I was pleased to learn about the brave Italian resistance who saved 50,000 Jews and bravely faced the Nazis and their own Fascist government. But in the end, no matter how great your research was and how much you want to include every detail . . .for me, the pacing was very slowed by the amount of war detail. If you love history, you might feel completely the opposite.

This is my third book by Russell, but while I really enjoyed The Sparrow and thought Doc was okay, I honestly don't like how she writers her characters overall. Think this book will be my last by her.

P.S. It will also be my last WWII novelization for a long, long time. Certainly there are other time periods to write about. Just think this one is done to death, and to do it better is going to take a mammoth effort.
Profile Image for Linda Robinson.
Author 4 books134 followers
May 8, 2019
On the ground, a drunk, coughing German officer; a girl of 14 with green eyes; a dapper Italian grappa lover with a taste for costuming; his mother; a quiet village rabbi's family. It is 1943-44 in Northern Italy after il Duce has left the country and everyone else moved in. German squads with tanks, carbinieri, patriots, loyalists, traitors, Communists, villagers, farmers, deserters, priests, Jewish refugees; and overhead, American, British, German planes drop bombs on monasteries and mountain resistance. The characters are everyday heroes, forged in extraordinary circumstances. 43,000 Jews were saved from vicious enslavement and death by Italian villagers. We meet some of the heroes. Lidia Leoni who takes out her dentures to gum crazily at Germans manning checkpoints, distracting the guards. Farmers' families hide refugees, risking their own families. Halfway through reading, talking with friends, I wondered out loud why the Nazi officers in fiction and movies are usually handsome, charming. My friend said that probably represents some truth. Officers in charge of commandeered villages were supposed to not terrify, but pacify the local authorities. And the other friend told a story about her father, who returned to Italy during these years to check on family and was swept up in a rastello - rake - wherein Germans or collaborators took slave laborers from villages and fields to rebuild bridges, move rubble. She wished she had written his story while he was alive. How did he escape? Who helped him to get back to the USA? This terrifying story made the book richer: her father probably had help from everyday Italian heroes, like the people we meet in this novel. One previous reader had written on the bottom of a right-hand page "STOP. The next two pages are graphic torture scenes. You can skip to page 380 without losing any of the plot." Another generous spirit like many of the people of San Mauro, Valdottavo, Roccabarbena and Sant'Andrea.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,340 followers
April 26, 2011
I found the subject matter of this book really interesting--WWII in Northern Italy and the assistance some Italians gave to local Jews and refugees coming through the French border. The risks some people took to do the right thing is at times breathtaking. Having said this, the characters were complex and varied, and this certainly was not a rose coloured story with a happy ending the main characters. My only reservation in not giving it five stars is that at times the narrative thread got a tad tedious and, while this is not a usual problem for me, it was challenging at times to keep track of all the characters. But I certainly would be interested in reading more by Russell and reading more about this part of WWII.
Profile Image for Wealhtheow.
2,432 reviews543 followers
July 30, 2007
sobbed through her earlier books, and this is no exception. Set during WWII, with many jewish main characters, Russell nevertheless avoids the obvious tragedies (although there are oblique mentions to the events in other countries) in order to concentrate on hearts, minds, and shattering illusions. She has an obvious love and understanding of her characters, and so even the most horrifying come across as realistic, almost sympathetic. Her plot is complex and interweaves many disparate elements without getting bogged down.
Profile Image for Jenny.
122 reviews
February 17, 2020
A well researched, touching book about the lives of Italians and refugees during the German occupation of Italy at the end of WW2. Explores the philosophical and religious implications of a morality code turned upside down by war. I felt like I learned a lot about the every day lives of civilians and resistance fighters in the Italian Alps with enough historical background to place the story within the wider war effort.
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