The Garden of Letters

Written by Alyson Richman
Review by Kristen Hannum

Sweet-natured Elodie Bertolotti’s life as a teenaged cello prodigy in Verona, Italy, collapses in April 1943 after the fascist regime jails and beats her father. It changes again when, six months later, as she is fleeing Verona, she arrives in Portofino and a stranger calls out to her, welcoming her as his cousin and saving her from having to show her false papers to the Nazi guards. The man tells her later that he has tricked the Nazis several times now. He calls out to the most frightened-looking traveler. Elodie looked frightened because she had become active in the Resistance, transmitting messages embedded in her music, minor keys and the number of notes in trills giving information to other Resistance cells. She’d also fallen in love. Elodie’s story is told in alternating chapters as the author also tells the tragic love story of the doctor who saved her and also their days together in Portofino.

This is a gentle, sometimes dreamlike story despite its setting in the brutal days of World War II. The fact that the narrative goes back and forth between April and October means that the reader knows that Elodie survives her work in the Resistance. And as the story progress it also becomes obvious this is a love story, and we anticipate that the author is going to give us a straightforward happy ending.

The Garden of Letters tells a sweet story, guileless and plain. And yet at the same time it’s fairy tale-like in its graceful writing and lovely images, in particular in the telling of the doctor’s love story, which is filled with love letters, loss, and the scent of lemons. I happily fell into this novel and predict it will find its way into the hearts of many readers.