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Reviews of Return to Valetto by Dominic Smith

Return to Valetto

A Novel

by Dominic Smith

Return to Valetto by Dominic Smith X
Return to Valetto by Dominic Smith
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  • Published:
    Jun 2023, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Book Summary

From the bestselling author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, Dominic Smith's Return to Valetto tells of a nearly abandoned Italian village, the family that stayed, and long-buried secrets from World War II.

On a hilltop in Umbria sits Valetto. Once a thriving village—and a hub of resistance and refuge during World War II—centuries of earthquakes, landslides, and the lure of a better life have left it neglected. Only ten residents remain, including the widows Serafino—three eccentric sisters and their steely centenarian mother—who live quietly in their medieval villa. Then their nephew and grandson, Hugh, a historian, returns.

But someone else has arrived before him, laying claim to the cottage where Hugh spent his childhood summers. The unwelcome guest is the captivating and no-nonsense Elisa Tomassi, who asserts that the family patriarch, Aldo Serafino, a resistance fighter whom her own family harbored, gave the cottage to them in gratitude. But like so many threads of history, this revelation unravels a secret—a betrayal, a disappearance, and an unspeakable act of violence—that has impacted Valetto across generations. Who will answer for the crimes of the past?

Dominic Smith's Return to Valetto is a riveting journey into one family's dark history, a page-turning excavation of the ruins of history and our commitment to justice in a fragile world. For fans of Amor Towles, Anthony Doerr, and Jess Walter, it is a deeply human and transporting testament to the possibility of love and understanding across gaps of all kinds—even time.

1

The Saint's Staircase hangs down from the cliffs of Valetto, spiraling into thin air. It's all that remains of the house in Umbria where a disciple of St. Francis of Assisi lived until 1695, when a massive earthquake cleaved a third of the town into the canyons below. Because Valetto sits on a pedestal of volcanic rock—an island jutting up from the valley floor—the spiral staircase appears to float, a twist of wrought iron eerily suspended between the chestnut groves below and the twelfth-century church spire above.

Over the centuries, as Valetto has dwindled from a town of three thousand to just ten full-time residents, including my mother's family, the staircase has become a favorite spot for reckless tourists and ruminating locals. Some have claimed otherworldly vistas from the stairs: apparitions of the medieval saint or visitations from the dead. As a boy, when I visited the town during the summers, I'd get up early to see the fog rolling up the riverine mouth of ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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This is writing to be savored, each brilliantly crafted paragraph an ode to central Italy; the author's love of the country is apparent on every page. Return to Valetto is a marvelous work of literary fiction, and I recommend it for anyone looking for a well-written novel they can relax into...continued

Full Review Members Only (651 words)

(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

Booklist
[Smith] brings Valetto to life with a gift for symmetry and a dash of humor... This accomplished novel offers engaging characterization paired with echoes of the past that resound in the present.

Kirkus Reviews
More fine work from a gifted storyteller: engrossing, well written, and affecting.

Publishers Weekly
An intriguing saga of wartime promises and trauma ... This intelligent family drama will keep readers turning the pages.

Author Blurb Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek
In this propulsive, lush, and haunting novel, Dominic Smith transports us to a near-abandoned town in Umbria and shows how the courage to voice unspeakable secrets of the past can give new life to crumbling bonds of family and community. Filled with enormous hope for the future and rich appreciation for history, Return to Valetto will make you want to race through to the end but also slow down to savor the beautiful writing and sharp insights. I couldn't put it down.

Author Blurb Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins and The Angel of Rome
I was completely charmed and transported by Return to Valetto, Dominic Smith's smart, engaging novel about the secrets held within a dying Italian village. This terrific novel, about loss and family and the weight of history, is probably as close as I'll ever get to buying one of those picturesque Italian villas, and surely a wiser investment.

Author Blurb Joshua Ferris, author of A Calling for Charlie Barnes
The revelations of Return to Valetto―those of history, and those of the heart―unfold with meticulous grace in Dominic Smith's stately and majestic novel. With fascists breathing down our necks anew, Return to Valetto could not be more timely, but it is the fine writing and high drama that make it so memorable, and so moving.

Author Blurb Lara Prescott, New York Times bestselling author of The Secrets We Kept
Packed with lush details and a gripping narrative, Dominic Smith's masterful novel is about the ways in which the past echoes through generations, how the human heart is both fragile and resilient, and what it takes to stand up for justice no matter how much time has passed. Return to Valetto is a story of love, loss, and the enduring power of hope. Propulsive, heartfelt, and sneakily funny―I was transfixed from page one.

Reader Reviews

prem singh yadav

Return to Valetto A Novel
Compelling tale that smoothly ties together themes of love, loss, and the enduring power of trust. From the opening page, the story immerses readers in the fascinating world of Valetto, a nearly desolate Italian town that was once a bustling city ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The "Dying City" of Civita di Bagnoregio

Civita di Bagnoregio Dominic Smith's novel Return to Valetto was in part inspired by his visit to Civita di Bagnoregio, a town roughly 60 miles north of Rome. Known as "Il paese che muore" or "The Dying City," this tiny village sits atop a crumbling column of clay and tufa (a type of soft volcanic rock common in the region). As the column continues to erode the city's livable area decreases; the village will eventually be destroyed.

Civita di Bagnoregio, frequently referred to as just Civita, was founded around 500 BCE by the Etruscans, a civilization that ruled central Italy from approximately the 8th to the 3rd centuries BCE. The city was ideally situated on a towering plateau rising out of a valley between two rivers, the Rio Chiaro and the Rio Torbido. ...

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