Early One Morning

Written by Virginia Baily
Review by Hilary Daninhirsch

In 1939, as families are being deported from an Italian Jewish ghetto on their way to almost certain death, a mother on the train gives a bystander a silent, pleading look. In that moment of unspoken compliance, Chiara Ravello makes an impetuous, life-changing decision: she pulls a young boy off the train, pretending that he is her nephew. Chiara is part of the Italian Resistance and had planned to flee Rome to the safety of her grandmother’s country home. Her fiancé was killed, and both of her parents are dead, making her the sole guardian of her sister, who has epilepsy and brain damage as a result. But the decision to take and raise Daniele has a profound effect on the tiny family.

Years later, long after Daniele has disappeared from Chiara’s life, Chiara receives a phone call from a young girl from Wales purporting to be Daniele’s daughter. The girl, who recently learned of his existence, begs for information and goads Chiara into allowing her to stay with her in Italy to learn about the father she never knew. Chiara allows it but holds back key information from Maria. But someone is keeping information about Daniele from Chiara.

The story weaves back and forth in time, with present-day Chiara in her 60s. The reader only learns about Daniele through Chiara’s memories of him, both as a child and as a young man, and it is not an idyllic story. I closed the book with unanswered questions about Daniele and wanted to know more about him and about their mother-son relationship. Nonetheless, the writing is exquisite, and the story, which is about motherhood, sacrifices and regret, is a poignant one.