Summary and book reviews of A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

A Thread of Grace

A Novel

by Mary Doria Russell

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

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Book Summary

Set in Italy during the dramatic finale of World War II, Russell's ambitious and engrossing novel tells the little known story of how Italian citizens saved more than 43,000 Jews during the last 20 months of WWII.

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.

Greater Italy
1943
Anno Fascista XXII

8 September 1943


Porto Sant'Andrea, Liguria 
Northwestern Coast of Italy


A simple answer to a simple question. That's all Werner Schramm requires.

"Where's the church?" he yells, belligerent and sick—sicker yet when his shout becomes a swampy cough.

A small crowd gathers to appreciate the spectacle: a Waffen-SS officer, thin, fortyish, and liquored up. He props his hands against his knees, coughing harder. "La basilica!" he gasps, remembering the Italian. "San Giovanni—dove è?"

A young woman points. He catches the word campanile, and straightens, careful of his chest. Spotting the bell tower above a tumble of rooftops that stagger toward the sea, he turns to thank her. Everyone is gone.

No matter. Downhill is the path of least resistance for a man who's drunk himself legless. Nearer the harbor, the honeyed light of the Italian Riviera ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Renzo and Schramm have both committed crimes against civilians during war, but the priest Don Osvaldo feels there is some essential difference between the two men's actions. Is the difference merely a matter of scale, or is there an ethical difference? Does your emotional response to each character color your opinion?

  2. Renzo attempts to remain apolitical during the Nazi occupation. Was that a moral position or should he have fought the Nazis from the beginning? Is moderation or neutrality possible or even desirable during war?

  3. We are accustomed to admiring the partisan resistance to German occupation during World War II. In today's world there are many places where armed resistance to occupying forces is ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Russell introduces us to an expansive and richly drawn cast of characters in a book that is both epic and brilliant.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (294 words).

Media Reviews

Library Journal

In 1943, teenaged Claudette Blum scales the Alps with her father, hoping to find sanctuary in Italy. It took the author of the highly regarded The Sparrow five years to research this book, which highlights the network of Italians who saved 43,000 Jewish lives during World War II.

Booklist

Italian citizens saved more than 43,000 Jews during the last 20 months of World War II. Russell has transmuted this little-known history into an expansive, well-researched, and compelling novel.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Stateless Jews find refuge in the valleys of northwest Italy, thanks to the humanity of supposedly thick-witted peasants a rich, rewarding, and well-researched tale of WWII..... Beautiful, noble, fascinating, and almost unbearably sad.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Busy, noisy and heartfelt, this sprawling novel by Russell-a striking departure from her previous two acclaimed SF thrillers...The intensity and intimacy of Russell's storytelling, her sharp character writing and fierce sense of humor bring fresh immediacy to this riveting WWII saga. This is a worthy successor to high-caliber, crowd-pleasing WWII novels like Corelli's Mandolin or The English Patient.

Author Blurb Susan Cahill, author/editor of Desiring Italy and The Smiles of Rome
Essential reading for people who love Italy. You will lose yourself completely in this ecumenical epic of Italians working together to save Jewish refugees during the German Occupation of 1943-1944. Russell has a deep empathy for her characters and writes with genius about the horrors of guerrilla war. This wholly absorbing historical novel ends with perhaps the most moving coda in fictional history.

Author Blurb Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club
Mary Doria Russell's fans (and aren't we all?) will rejoice to see her new novel on the shelves. A Thread of Grace is as ambitious, beautiful, tense, and transforming as any of us could have hoped.

Author Blurb David Morrell, author of The Brotherhood of the Rose and First Blood
Fans of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God will be thrilled by her masterful new novel. A Thread of Grace is a rich, multi-layered narrative that offers fresh insight into a devastating time in world affairs. A story of love and war, it speaks to the resilience and beauty of the human spirit in the midst of unimaginable horror. It is, unquestionably, a literary triumph.

Reader Reviews

Kim

Top of my list!
I approached this novel with a bit of apprehension, since Mary Doria Russell's previous books are among my favorites, and I knew this one was a huge departure from both The Sparrow and Children of God. Well, A Thread of Grace not only measures up, ...   Read More

Erica

A Thread of Grace
I read about a book or more a week and have a 50 page rule - 100 pages, if I think there might be a chance for redemption. I therefore don't read much of what I don't like. But it is rare for me to find a book that I love. For me, a book I love, ...   Read More

Jan Stephens

About once a year I read a book that touches my heart and soul with captivating characters, a compelling plot and worthy dialogue; this is my pick of the year!! Mary Doria Russell's newest historical fiction details how a network of citizens (...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

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 ...

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