Synopses & Reviews
From the New York Times
bestselling author of Midwives
and The Sandcastle Girls
comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge — set in war-ravaged Tuscany.
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.
"A mystery that reminds us of the harrowing choices World War II forced on so many. Beautifully structured, written with restrained intensity and suspenseful to the end, this is both a satisfying mystery and a gut-wrenching account of moral dilemma in a time of moral struggle." People
"The Light in the Ruins, Chris Bohjalian’s brilliantly crafted historical novel...switches back and forth from the mid-1940s, while the war is raging, to the mid-’50s....The alternating time frame keeps the reader suspicious of everyone, but whether likable or loathsome, Bohjalian’s characters are utterly compelling....The book’s payoff is greater than figuring out whodunit. Bohjalian repeatedly confronts us with the moral dilemmas of wartime....In this novel, Bohjalian contemplates painful choices while offering a tour-de-force murder mystery, heartbreaking romance and a dazzling denouement that will tear your heart out.” The Washington Post
"An intriguing tale of Bohjalian complexity...The Light in the Ruins is plotted with an elegance worthy of an Etruscan. It pivots between creation and destruction, the past and the present, and the uneasy chimerical points where they collide." The Miami Herald
"Addictive, fast-paced, and often frankly terrifying...Bohjalian has created an entertaining, thought-provoking, and disturbingly contemporary fictional world in which compassion and outrage are two sides of the same coin....Fling open the shutters. Settle in a comfortable chair. Lock the doors, Then turn to the first page of The Light in the Ruins and let the shadows in." The Philadelphia Inquirer
"With each book, Bohjalian flexes his literary muscles, crafting a ghost story, historical fiction, and now police procedural....[Bohjalian] is skilled at evoking the sepia-tinged past." Entertainment Weekly
“Dead solid perfect. Bohjalian has written another winner.” Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“At the heart of a good novel is a good story, and this story is a doozy. Bohjalian expertly weaves together a tale of how the war split Italy between the people who willingly collaborated with the Germans and the ones who did not....Not every author could manage to tell a war story, throw in a serial killer and drop in several interesting romances, but Bohjalian manages.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A brilliant blend of historical fiction and a chilling serial killer story...a page-turner that the reader will not soon forget.” BookPage
“Bohjalian subtly and skillfully manipulates our suspicions...trusting his readers to foment their own speculations....Well-researched, historically interesting.” The Boston Globe
“The Rosatis’ Etruscan burial site, effectively ravaged and exploited by the Germans for its potentially priceless artifacts, becomes the metaphor for the excruciating violations unfolding across the entire continent. Similarly, Bohjalian raises questions about the nature of injustice and the, often, arbitrary codes we deploy in order to keep a firm grasp on right and wrong, good and evil, or hero and villain. The Light in the Ruins offers an engaging story that unspools in such a way as to keep the reader with her nose to the pages long after the light has actually faded.” New York Journal of Books
"Thoroughly gripping, beautiful, and astonishingly vengeful, this novel is a heartbreaker. Bohjalian's latest turn to historical fiction is immensely rewarding." Library Journal (starred review)
"Mastering matters subtle and grotesque, Bohjalian combines intricate plotting and bewitching sensuality with historical insight and a profound sense of place to create an exceptional work of suspense rooted in the tragic aberrations of war." Booklist (starred review)
"A literary thriller...a soulful why-done-it." Kirkus Reviews
"An exploration of post-WWII Italy doubles as a murder mystery in this well-crafted novel...an entertaining historical whodunit." Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Chris Bohjalian is the critically acclaimed author of sixteen books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Sandcastle Girls, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, and Midwives. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah's Book Club. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter. Visit him at www.chrisbohjalian.com or on Facebook.
Reading Group Guide
In order to provide reading groups with the most informed and thought-provoking questions possible, it is necessary to reveal important aspects of the plot of this book—as well as the ending. If you have not finished reading The Light in the Ruins we respectfully suggest that you may want to wait before reviewing this guide.
1. Before reading The Light in the Ruins, how much did you know about the Nazi occupation of Italy and the rise of fascism? Which historical aspects of the novel surprised you the most?
2. If you had been in Antonio and Beatrice’s position, would you have shown any hospitality to the Germans? How would you have navigated the grim choices such families were forced to make?
3. Chris Bohjalian is known for creating unique narrators. What sort of person did you picture when you read the italicized passages? How did your theories about the killer shift?
4. How did love flourish between Cristina and Friedrich despite their circumstances? How did they rise above their cultural differences? What does their romance say about the human experience?
5. What does Enrico and Teresa’s story illustrate about the emotional cost of war? Who are the novels heroes?
6. Discuss Serafina’s relationship to the past. Why is she able to ignore those who accuse the Rosatis of colluding with the enemy?
7. How did you react to Friedrich’s compassion and sensitivity? What was it like to experience a character who so strongly defies stereotypes?
8. What does Vittore’s interest in archaeology say about his personality? What timeless aspects of life are captured in the novel’s artifacts? How do antiquities provide a form of immortality to the people who created them?
9. Discuss the novel’s title. How is it reflected in the theme of survival, albeit with physical or emotional scars? How could someone like Francesca—who was criticized for making waves—find meaning in life after so many tragic losses? Why is Villa Chimera ultimately an appropriate name for the estate?
10. Compare Marco and Vittore. Which one uses power more effectively? How do they perceive their heritage and their responsibilities to their families?
11. What are your theories about the making of a soldier like Erhard Decher? What does it take for someone to become as ruthless and as loyal as he? In what ways did his supposed strengths lead to his downfall?
12. In the closing scenes, when Muller orders Cristina to take him to the hideout of the partisans, would you have done as she did? Could you give your life to protect another?
13. Which aspects of The Light in the Ruins echo the storytelling in previous Bohjalian novels you have enjoyed?