Last Train from Liguria
Spinster Bella Stuart, at the insistence of her cold-hearted father, leaves London for Italy in 1933 to become a governess to young Alec Lami. The Lami family is, and will remain, a mystery to her; Alec’s father dies shortly after Bella’s arrival, and the young, beautiful Signora Lami is distant, providing detailed travel instructions but no personal introduction for the woman who will be her son’s constant companion for the next several years. Bella arrives at the Lami’s summer estate, in Bordighera on the Northern Italian coast, where she meets the mysterious Edward King, who is Alec’s piano teacher and trusted friend. Also present are some Lami cousins from America, who, drinks always in hand, are portrayed as arrogant and gaudy.
The heart of the story is the relationship between Bella, Edward, and Alec, countered by parallel chapters from Anna, who the reader discerns is somehow related to Bella, from a 1995 London perspective. As each story unfolds – Bella’s embracing of Italy and her young charge and Anna’s investigations into her family’s past – the characters and settings come to life. Italy is glorious and colorful, until Mussolini and Hitler join forces; London and its environs are grey and unrelentingly dreary, as is Anna’s life. The downward spiral culminates in the Jewish race laws of 1938, when Bella and Edward are forced to confront their pasts and take on a dangerous task to ensure Alec’s future. Connections between the stories and characters are nimbly woven and had this reader rooting for an impossible outcome.