Hot Chocolate at Hanselmann’s
Although the “hot chocolate” arrives only in the final chapters, what come before are emotional and sometimes shocking events in an Italian family during World War II. Lorenza, a writer, recalls her childhood in quick, unconnected glimpses of memory when her family entertained Arturo Cohen, her father’s university colleague who seems taken with her mother, Isabella. They enjoy outings and varied discussions, and even the staunch Isabella blushes at Arturo’s risqué teasing. When Arturo stops coming, young Lorenza and her sister question their father, who explains that their guest has gone for good. “Arturo is Jewish, even though only his father is Jewish…he is considered Jewish all the same.” They soon learn of the Racial Manifesto that strips Italian Jews of their rights and their jobs. Arturo decides to go to Switzerland, eventually visiting Chesa Silvascina, where Isabella’s mother lives and her sister, Margot, passes her time breaking male hearts with her beauty. When Margot meets Arturo, her life changes.
The novel addresses the persecutions of Italian Jews but also its effect on the lives of one Catholic family who welcomed a quiet, non-practicing Jew into their homes and their hearts, eventually to great consequence. Due to the random nature of memory, events and points of view often shift from one page to the next, but the astute reader perseveres and sees the many threads woven to reveal the family ties and attitudes toward the larger problem, represented by one man’s dilemma. This novel is barely 200 pages, yet one learns more about Lorenza’s family here than another writer could cover in a saga of many volumes.