The Italian Wife: A Novel. Kate Furnivall. Penguin Group (USA). October 2015. 432 pp. ISBN#: 9780425281383.
Isabella Berotti is enjoying a coffee in a shop in Bellina, Italy in 1932. The massive building across the street is one that she actually helped design. She’s proud of her work and her marriage. That work came after a terrible time when her husband Luigi was killed by a sniper and she was devastatingly shot in the back. Ten years of surgeries and pain, as well as attempting to build a new life for herself as an architect, have culminated in her job planning the construction of buildings in Mussolini’s latest project. Mussolini is determined to make this city of Bellina the greatest city in Italy, indeed in the world! But disaster begins to wreak its designs, which Isabella realizes will only get worse if the tyrant has his way! Now immediately after a young woman asks Isabella to watch her daughter and quickly states she knows who killed Isabella’s husband, the woman crosses the street, climbs to the top of the tower, and jumps off the building. Isabella, like all observers around the building, is stunned beyond words and then realizes she has a little girl who no longer has a mother!
The remainder of the novel is a journey to find out who this woman was, how she knew about Isabella’s husband and what is happening in this city in which nosing around brings brutal repercussions! Isabella meets a young photographer, Roberto Falco, who is an uncommonly caring individual. He introduces her to a world of migrant workers who are brought into the city to farm and work on its new buildings but who also face interrogations and brutality from Mussolini’s police and guards. It turns out that Isabella’s husband, who was a “Blackshirt” was much more than the person she thought she knew and loved. The child Rosa has already lived a life with more drama, cruelty, and fear than any adult over an entire lifetime. She’s a beautiful but scarred individual who responds to Isabella’s kindness, even after she is taken away from Isabella, her only hope for a different future.
The Italian Wife… is a novel filled with tension-ridden scenes and some lovely descriptions of architecture and country life. The story is based on facts about Mussolini’s rule and desire to impress the world with his revolutionary attitudes about how a city should be constructed and ruled! This is historical fiction at its best and Kate Furnivall is a talented writer who has captured the essence of Italy and its citizens in the midst of changing, turbulent times!