The Garden of Letters: A Novel. Alyson Richman. Penguin Group (USA). September 2014. 384 pp. ISBN#: 9780425266250.
Elodie is a cello prodigy living in Verona, Italy during WWII. Her childhood is free of worry and stress as she is concerned only with music. She has a photographic memory and so remembers every score after she has played it only one time. Add to that the heightened sensitivity she exhibits as she melds into her cello and infuses emotion into every piece she plays, no matter how different or complex! She’s a wonder and her parents appreciate and nurture her very special gift, so wonderfully told that the reader can feel the music and ambiance it creates through each description!
One day her father, a music instructor, arrives home after being brutally beat up by some German thug soldiers. He never really recovers but that event changes everything for Elodie and her mother. Elodie changes her name to Anna as she evolves into a trusted and respected member of the Resistance movement working to thwart the coming invasion by Germans. Her service is heightened by the tender but passionate love affair that develops between Anna and the bookseller/Resistance leader, Luca.
In between these scenes is another story of a love memorialized in an exquisite arrangement of love letters from Angelo serving in the war and Dalia. It’s a “Love Story” of beauty and heart-rending sadness that lives on forever.
After much suffering and loss, Anna is taken home by Angelo with only the purest of intentions. For those who have lost much know that they have much to give to fellow travelers of devastation. This leads to a new story that is heightened by Anna’s fierce loyalty and dangerous field activities that have led her to this quiet, healing place in Portofino, Italy!
The Garden of Letters is lyrical, poetic, literate historical fiction of the highest order! Alyson Richman is one hugely talented writer whose writing displays the beauty and sensitivity she has infused into her characters, without sacrificing the starkness and terror of WWII along with the nobility and courage of Resistance fighters. Gorgeous, extraordinary historical fiction this reviewer insists is must reading!