Friday, October 16, 2015

The Italian Wife: A Novel by Kate Furnivall

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!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Stones in the Road by E. B. Moore

Stones in the Road.  E. B. Moore. Penguin Group (USA). October 2015. 384 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451469991.

A young Amish man, Joshua, lives with his family in 1867 Pennsylvania.  His father is a well-respected Deacon in the Amish community, but his father’s hatred comes out clearly when he has been drinking, a frequent evening activity that proves to be life-threatening for Joshua.  On one similar night, his father drags Joshua to a barn and sets about to kill him, not just beat him; but accidental movements occur and a fire is set that all but destroys the barn and leaves the father, Abraham, a physically and mentally scarred man. He’s a broken man who cannot utter what he was really trying to do that night.

Joshua runs away a second time.  He had been away once and had enough of life with “the English” that he wanted no more.  Now, however, he has no choice.  He has suffered burns himself in the fire and receives merciful treatment from unexpected characters.  His mother, Miriam, refuses to believe he died in the fire and searches the lands around their farm for days and days.  She’s a complex character who loves Abraham for the past moments of tenderness they have shared but who also knows his uglier side.  The stance she now takes with this wounded man and now being forced to manage their farm is evidence of the formidably strong and enduring woman she is. 

This then is the tale of these three main characters and those with whom they interact in their journey until mother and son might be reunited. It’s also a marvelous look into post-Civil War life from Pennsylvania all the way to Colorado and beyond.  The characters are gritty survivors of those who journey and live in western lands, those who prefer to be friendly and supportive because they believe in the love that binds American lives and those who would hurt and kill in a moment because of fear and anger at the sacrifices mandatory for those who would tame the difficult land and work for prosperity.

Stones in the Road is fine historical fiction about western life as well as a novel that gently depicts the life of Plains Amish people as well as their beliefs.  Very nicely done, E. B. Moore!  A notable, worthy follow-up to Moore’s facinating previous novel, An Unseemly Wife