Comment: Mary Doria Russell's
A Thread of Grace novelizes the extraordinary and
little known history of Northern Italy during the last
two years of World War II, during which time Italian
citizens saved the lives of more than 43,000 Jews. Up
until September 1943, the northwest part of Italy had
been relatively untouched by WWII, and even the South of
France (occupied by the Italians) was a relative safe
haven for Jews. Things changed dramatically when
Mussolini and the Fascists were overthrown in July 1943,
and in early September the new Italian government signed
a peace treaty with the Allies, but only three days
later Germany invaded Italy, rescued Mussolini and
reestablished the Fascist government.
The story opens on September 8, 1943; 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, but she soon discovers that Italy is anything but peaceful, as, overnight, it becomes an open battleground among the Nazis, the Allies, resistance fighters, Jews in hiding, and ordinary Italian civilians trying to survive.
Against this dramatic background, Russell introduces us to an expansive and richly drawn cast of characters, in a book that is both epic and brilliant. I strongly recommend it, as do many reviewers, including Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly (who both give it starred reviews). Publishers Weekly says, 'this is a worthy successor to high-caliber, crowd-pleasing WWII novels like Corelli's Mandolin or The English Patient, and Kirkus Reviews describes it as 'beautiful, noble, fascinating, and almost unbearably sad'.
This review 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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