Beyond the Book: Background information when reading A Thread of Grace

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A Thread of Grace

A Novel

by Mary Doria Russell

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2005, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2005, 464 pages

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Mary Russell Doria says, 'the highest Jewish survival rate in Nazi-occupied Europe was in Italy! We've spent 60 years trying to understand what went wrong during the Holocaust. I wanted to know what went right in Italy.'

For skeptics who believe that she might have idealized the courage and generosity of ordinary Italians during the 1940s, Russell closes her author's note with the following inscription chiseled on the marble memorial stela in Borgo San Dalmazzo by the Jews of  Saint-Martin-Vesubie in honor of the people of Valle Stura and Valle Gesso:

When racial hatred raged in Europe, Jewish Refugees, uncertain of their fate, coming from distant countries -- Austria, Belgium, Germany, Poland -- found hospitality and safety in these valleys. Hidden in isolated cottages, protected by the population, they waited with trust and hope, through two interminable winters, for the return of liberty.  In homage to and in memory of those who helped them, those refugees and their descendants embrace the noble inhabitants of these valleys in brotherhood.

Interesting fact: To mirror the arbitrary nature of survival during wartime, Russell says that she flipped a coin to determine who among her characters would live and who would die.

Useful Links: A map of Italy (A Thread of Grace is set in the mountainous Northwest corner of Italy, approximately equidistant between Monaco and Genoa).

This article was originally published in February 2005, and has been updated for the November 2005 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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