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A Thread of Grace: A Novelby Mary Doria Russell
"Lord only knows, we've got plenty of World War II novels already....Many of these books are good and some are great, but surely we've got enough of them by now — which is probably what a lot of people will think when they hear about Mary Doria Russell's A Thread of Grace. Nevertheless, it would be a big mistake to write off this absorbing novel....[T]he book is a veritable symphony of action, deploying about a dozen characters (all solidly delineated), in a nonstop string of escapes, ambushes, ruses, sabotages, sorties, disguises, coded communications and rescues." Laura Miller, Salon.com (read the entire Salon.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
Set in Italy during the dramatic finale of World War II, this new novel is the first in seven years by the bestselling author of The Sparrow and Children of God.
It is September 8, 1943, and fourteen-year-old Claudette Blum is learning Italian with a suitcase in her hand. She and her father are among the thousands of Jewish refugees scrambling over the Alps toward Italy, where they hope to be safe at last, now that the Italians have broken with Germany and made a separate peace with the Allies. The Blums will soon discover that Italy is anything but peaceful, as it becomes overnight an open battleground among the Nazis, the Allies, resistance fighters, Jews in hiding, and ordinary Italian civilians trying to survive.
Mary Doria Russell sets her first historical novel against this dramatic background, tracing the lives of a handful of fascinating characters. Through them, she tells the little-known but true story of the network of Italian citizens who saved the lives of forty-three thousand Jews during the war's final phase. The result of five years of meticulous research, A Thread of Grace is an ambitious, engrossing novel of ideas, history, and marvelous characters that will please Russell's many fans and earn her even more.
"Busy, noisy and heartfelt, this sprawling novel by Russell — a striking departure from her previous two acclaimed SF thrillers, The Sparrow and Children of God — chronicles the Italian resistance to the Germans during the last two years of WWII. Three cultures mingle uneasily in Porto Sant'Andrea on the Ligurian coast of northwest Italy — the Italian Jews of the village, headed by the chief rabbi Iacopo Soncini; the Italian Catholics, like Sant'Andrea's priest Don Osvaldo Tomitz, who befriend and shelter the Jews; and the occupying Germans invited by Mussolini's crumbling regime. In the last camp is the drunken, tubercular Nazi deserter, Doktor Schramm, a broken man who confesses to Don Osvaldo that while working in state hospitals and Auschwitz, he was responsible for murdering 91,867 people. Meanwhile, Jewish refugees in southern France, including Albert Blum and his teenage daughter, Claudette, are fleeing across the Alps to Italy, hoping to find sanctuary there. Russell pursues numerous narrative threads, including the Blums' perilous flight over the mountains; Italian Jew Renzo Leoni's personal coming to terms with his participation in the Dolo hospital bombing during the Abyssinian campaign in 1935; the dangerous frenzy of the Italian partisans; and the bloody-mindedness of German officers resolved to carry out Hitler's murderous racial policy despite mounting evidence of its futility. The action moves swiftly, with impressive authority, jostling dialogue, vibrant personalities and meticulous, unexpected historical detail. The intensity and intimacy of Russell's storytelling, her sharp character writing and fierce sense of humor bring fresh immediacy to this riveting WWII saga. Agent, Jane Dystel. (Feb. 1) Forecast: This is a worthy successor to high-caliber, crowd-pleasing WWII novels like Corelli's Mandolin or The English Patient. With the publisher firmly behind it — Russell will embark on a 12-city author tour — expect substantial sales. " Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A]n expansive, well-researched, and compelling novel....Russell is good at presenting the human story while never using the war merely as a backdrop for personal dramas." Booklist
"[A] rich, rewarding, and well-researched tale of WWII....Beautiful, noble, fascinating, and almost unbearably sad." Kirkus Reviews
"Densely populated, well-plotted novel, which is thick with intersecting plots and characters — most of them both colorful and memorable." Seattle Times
"[A]n emotionally wrenching experience. Russell has succeeded in vividly and memorably evoking the hardships, dangers, sufferings and sorrows of wartime life in Nazi-occupied Italy in a somber, profoundly moving book that engages the heights and depths of human experience." Los Angeles Times
"Russell is a smart, passionate and imaginative writer, and there wasn't a moment when I wanted to set this book aside. It's a vivid account of northern Italy during World War II." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Russell's characters were slow to come to life, and dialogue in the opening chapters was stiff. But as the pages rolled by, her people did come to life, without exception becoming more complex and more interesting. The writing, too, began to strike sparks." San Jose Mercury News
"[T]he author's emotional commitment to her characters is such that they soon grow on you, transcending cliché and laying claim to your heart....Mary Doria Russell's novel is...rich and broad and intricately figured — and in its design there is a glint of something like hope." BookReporter.com
"Mary Doria Russell's fans (and aren't we all?) will rejoice to see her new novel on the shelves. A Thread of Grace is as ambitious, beautiful, tense, and transforming as any of us could have hoped." Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club
"Fans of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God will be thrilled by her masterful new novel. A Thread of Grace is a rich, multi-layered narrative that offers fresh insight into a devastating time in world affairs. A story of love and war, it speaks to the resilience and beauty of the human spirit in the midst of unimaginable horror. It is, unquestionably, a literary triumph." David Morrell, author of The Brotherhood of the Rose and First Blood
"Essential reading for people who love Italy. You will lose yourself completely in this ecumenical epic of Italians working together to save Jewish refugees during the German Occupation of 19431944. Russell has a deep empathy for her characters and writes with genius about the horrors of guerrilla war. This wholly absorbing historical novel ends with perhaps the most moving coda in fictional history." Susan Cahill, author/editor of Desiring Italy and The Smiles of Rome
About the Author
The author of prize-winning research in paleoanthropology, Mary Doria Russell has written two previous novels, The Sparrow and Children of God. She lives with her husband and son in Cleveland, Ohio.
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