Sunday, 5 February 2012

Last Train from Liguria: Christine Dwyer Hickey (Italy)

From the bestselling Irish novelist comes a sweeping historical novel, a tale of consequences, spanning from the 1930s to the 1990s

In 1933, Bella Stuart leaves her quiet London life to move to Italy to tutor the child of a beautiful Jewish heiress and an elderly Italian aristocrat. Living at the family's summer home, Bella's reserve softens as she comes to love her young charge, and find friendship with Maestro Edward, his enigmatic music teacher.

But as the decade draws to an end and fascism tightens its grip on Europe, the fact that Alec is Jewish places his life in grave danger. Bella and Edward take the boy on a terrifying train journey out of Italy - one they have no reason to believe any of them will survive...

This was a very good, very well written book, which I managed to get through in around 3 days (the snow helped). Initially I found the authors oscillation between past and present tense (she moved, she moves) annoying, but as I continued to read, and understood the reasons for this, it ceased to be an issue, and the story was allowed to speak for itself.

The opening chapter is set in Dublin, where the character that we later comes to know as Edward, has killed his sister and is forced to flee, we later learn to Italy. This chapter is a little gory, gritty even, but I am no stranger to crime fiction, and so this did not unduly shock. For me at least, it helped to set the scene for the story that began to unfold, an enigmatic story full of colour, which truly brought the Italian scenes amd the characters to life.

I knew little about this part of Italian history other than what I have seen in films, so it was also an education and no doubt very well researched. The characters too were very believable, especially Bella in the way that she blossomed when he was given the chance to escape like Edward, from her troubled past.

The blurb describes this as a book about redmeption, and in many ways this is true for Bella does commit like Edward, a terrible crime, effectively stealing the child and her employers money, yet at the same time, she gave that child the best chance of life that she had and managed to save a life that would otherwise have almost certainly been lost.

Yes the ending could have been better, but this for me is a reflection of the whole book, how Nonna who had remained an enigma to her granddaugter Anna, brought her secrets to the grave, as did Edward too. As for what happened to the afforementioned Edward and of course Alec, well that is what made it such a good story, for like life itself, it is and will always remain, a mystery.

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