A Girl During the War
It’s Italy, 1943. Marina Tozzi returns home to find her father killed by Nazis for harboring a Jewish artist. Although she hadn’t known about the fugitive, Marina is advised to escape before she is implicated and killed too. She runs off to Villa I Tatti in Florence, the home of the wealthy art expert Bernard Berenson and librarian Belle da Costa Greene. She befriends Desi, a young woman hiding her pregnancy and her German lover from her family; Carlos, a partisan who is hiding a Jewish family and arranging for their escape into Switzerland; Ludwig Heydenreich, a German art historian working in Florence; and Captain Siegfried Bonner, an art collector.
A Girl During the War is flat. The characters, the plot, and the conflicts are one-dimensional. Everyone is courteous and wonderful, especially the protagonist Marina, who can do no wrong and goes from being a university student to an art expert overnight. She also solves everyone’s problems. Even the bad guys are unthreatening and honorable. Food rations are referenced but don’t exist in Marina’s or the other major characters’ worlds. Parties and cakes continue. The approach of the Allies, the German presence in Florence, the bombing of bridges, and partisan activity are included, but don’t have much, if any, impact on the characters. They are in the background.
When the war is over, Bernard offers Marina the opportunity to go to Buenos Aires and help find stolen artwork so it can be returned to the rightful owners. But this new plot line doesn’t create the conflict it should or could, even when someone from her past unexpectedly shows up. A Girl During the War is about a girl and the war, but it was superficial and did not evoke any empathy in me.