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Monday, July 15, 2013

Book 166: THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS Review

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
ISBN:  9780385534819 (hardcover)
ISBN:  9780385534826 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00B3GMIBY (Kindle edition)
Publication date: July 9, 2013 
Publisher: Doubleday


1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate's gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis' bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.
1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.
Set against an exquisitely rendered Italian countryside, The Light in the Ruins unveils a breathtaking story of moral paradox, human frailty, and the mysterious ways of the heart.

Cristina Rosati is an eighteen-year-old young woman in 1943. She's lived a rather sheltered life on her family's estate in Italy. Both of her older brothers have been enlisted to fight against the Allied forces. Regrettably neither brother has any training in military arts; one, Marco, is an engineer working in Sicily to fortify the coast, the other, Vittore, is an archeologist and is working to preserve as many artifacts as possible from bomb attacks and the Nazis. The only other Rosatis at the family villa are Cristina's parents, her sister-in-law Francesca (Marco's wife), and her seven-year-old nephew and five-year-old niece. Just when it looks like the Rosatis may be able to endure the war relatively unscathed, the Nazis come calling. First, the visits are to inspect the Etruscan tombs on their property. Then the visits are for entertainment and finally occupation. With very few able-bodied Italian men available, Cristina becomes enamored with a young German officer, Friedrich Strekker. Even though Italy supports the Nazis, their love affair is considered taboo. As the Allied forces begin their campaign into Italy, the Nazis are forced to retreat and the fighting becomes chaotic with the Allied forces on one side, the resistance movement, or partisans, on the other and the Nazis and the Rosatis caught in the middle. Italy was liberated from the Nazi occupation but at great cost to the Rosatis, Marco and both of his young children perished in the fighting.

The reader finds the Rosati family being stalked and murdered in 1955. One of the investigators on the case is the only female police investigator in Florence at that time, Serafina Bettini. Serafina tries to uncover motives for the murder of Francesca Rosati and what is revealed and is a slow decline from grace as a result of Francesca's husband and children's deaths in the war. Just when it seems there may be no clear motive  another Rosati is murdered, the matriarch and Marchesa, Beatrice. Although no clear motive is evident at first, the police decide to place the family under protective surveillance. The investigation in 1955 reveals a lot of what happened in 1943 and 1944 during the war. Is it possible the war is the common factor? If so, what could the Rosatis have possibly done to warrant this type of hatred and vengeance?

The Light in the Ruins reveals the story of Cristina, the Rosati family, and Serafina Bettini. The story is told in three voices, the voice of a young Cristina in 1943/1944, the voice of Serafina in 1955, and the voice of the murderer. As the story is slowly revealed, I became invested in the life and love of Cristina as well as that of Serafina. Both of these women are remarkably strong and independent women, although first appearances may be deceiving. Cristina and Serafina have endured unimaginable horrors as a result of the war, and those horrors continue into their present. There are obvious good guys and bad guys in this story, but many of the characters are people that have been pulled into the war in support of their country but not necessarily the politics of their leaders. It was close to impossible to see Friedrich Strekker as a bad guy even though he was a Nazi. The Light in the Ruins provides star-crossed lovers with a taboo love affair, a heinous set of murders, and a war-ravaged country filled with people just trying to survive. I found The Light in the Ruins to be a fast-paced read and one that I simply could not put down. If you enjoy historical fiction or just a well-written story, then this is one book you need to put on your list.

Read an excerpt here

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Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


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