Readers will emerge informed and moved from Lisa Scottoline’s first historical novel, which dramatizes WWII-era Rome via three best friends and their families. Known for her bestselling legal thrillers, Scottoline describes Eternal as “the book she was born to write.” Her passion shows in the carefully depicted setting and her compassion for her characters, whose ties are repeatedly tested.
In 1937, Sandro Simone, a Jewish mathematics student, and Marco Terrizzi, a popular, outgoing cyclist, both recognize that their longtime friendship with Elisabetta D’Orfeo has turned to love, turning them into unintended rivals. Pretty and strong-willed, but shy about romance, Elisabetta weighs a possible relationship against her desire to become a journalist. As the trio work out their feelings, the political situation deteriorates. Sandro’s and Marco’s fathers are longtime Fascists, optimistic about the positive change they see Mussolini bringing to their country. Their futures diverge once Il Duce strengthens Italy’s bond with Nazi Germany and starts promulgating anti-Semitic race laws.
Scottoline does an exceptional job placing readers in the moment as people’s worlds are upended, and Rome, with its storied architecture and vibrant culture, grows unrecognizably dark in spirit. Sandro’s father, a lawyer so entrenched in the Fascists that his beliefs essentially define him, has difficulty comprehending this betrayal of the Jews, while Marco, employed by a rising Party official, is blind to how his loyalties affect his friendships. These and other heartbreaking moments are juxtaposed against scenes showing the warm heart of the Roman people, including feisty Nonna, crafter of delicious pasta at the restaurant where Elisabetta works. Even Elisabetta’s cat is a delightful personality. Family secrets from decades prior – in this ancient city, the past is never far away – add additional depth to this absorbing epic evoking the worst and very best of humanity.