“Today was…what was today? The eighteenth day of June in the year 1944. Just another afternoon in a villa surrounded by olive groves and vineyard…Just another war in the history of an island.” So begins this tale of an older woman remembering the invasion of Elba, the Italian island famous for Napoleon’s last residence in exile, during WWII by Germans and African/French forces. On the day after her 70th birthday, Adriana Rundel is traveling on a commuter train from New Jersey to Manhattan. She begins to feel ill and seems to be floating back to those childhood memories in between realizing she is as helpless now as she was then.
In this novel, Joanna Scott has plumbed the depths of what war creates in the mind and feelings of a war-struck child. Weaving between the real and the imagined, Adriana is forced to hide in a cupboard while Senegalese and French soldiers kill, rape, and maim her neighboring villagers. When things calm down, she ventures outside to explore the reality of what she has been imagining from her relatives’ talk. Soon she meets Amdu Diop, a Senegalese soldier, who has been forever changed by the rape and murder he witnessed, committed by fellow soldiers. They actually save each other’s lives, but neither fully realizes until much later the miracle behind their finding one another. Unique to this story is the way this family is forced to cooperate or resist military forces that change from enemy to friend within a very brief time period. The devastation of war on the psyche, the loss of faith, and the preservation of hope in the face of such utter devastation are the focal points of this moving novel of first love.