Andrea Molesini's exquisite debut novel - winner of the prestigious Campiello Prize - portrays the depths of heroism and horror within a Northern Italian village toward the end of the Great War.
While a family's villa is requisitioned by enemy troops, they are forced to intimately confront war's injustice as their involvement with its sinister underpinnings grows more and more complex.
In the autumn of 1917, Refrontolo - a small community north of Venice - is invaded by Austrian soldiers as the Italian army is pushed to the Piave river. The Spada family owns the largest estate in the area, where orphaned 17-year-old Paolo lives with his eccentric grandparents, his headstrong aunt, and a loyal staff. With the battlefront nearby, the Spada home becomes a bastion of resistance, both clashing and cooperating with the military members imposing on their household.
When Paolo is recruited to help with a covert operation, his life is put in irrevocable jeopardy. As he bears witness to violence and hostility between enemies, he grows to understand the value of courage, dignity, family bonds, and patriotism during wartime.
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WW I: Fiction or Reality?
Yes. This story fills in blanks about enduring the disaster that was WW I in Italy and is peopled by authentic voices speaking truth about their time. It seemed to have the veracity of one who lived through this difficult time.
It had elements of The Leopard as the landed gentry were engulfed by the invaders from the north and faced the loss of, not only their traditions and possessions, but their freedom.
This is also the story of a boy becoming a man, the intelligence deployed by the family, especially Paolo's aunt, to outwit the German and Austrian soldiers and the creativity the strength that besieged people can bring forth when confronted by an evil enemy.
The last scene with the heroes facing the firing squad
Any scene with Grandfather speaking his mind
There were many tense scenes with the threat of violence omnipresent.
The narrator captured the voices of both men and women, young and old, and German and Austrian accents extremely well.
- Michael J. Kelley