The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom
The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom is a sweeping novel that explores humanity, family loyalty, and national prejudice in the face of war. It features a cast of characters primarily tied to the two protagonists, Olivia and Antonio. Olivia is a dance hostess with a talent for the tango who is saved from poverty by marriage to a wealthy and overindulged gentleman. Antonio is a struggling Italian singer with a pregnant wife and an extended family with Fascist leanings.
Set in England in the years leading up to, and following World War II, the novel trails Olivia and Antonio as they become entwined in a passionate affair. Though billed as an epic romance, the core of the novel is a commentary on human nature and our tendency to believe the worst without any evidence. The historical narrative of World War II is often dominated by the atrocities experienced by the Jews and Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. But little is said about immigrants to Britain and what they endured. This novel reveals how German and Austrian refugees were categorized as threats to national security, even though they were not a risk at all. This same bigotry worked against Italians living in England as well. Many supported rising Fascist dictator Mussolini in hopes of regaining their dignity, and as a result they were rounded up and deported. Antonio and his family become victims of this unfortunate campaign, and the consequences resonate to the very end of the novel.
Despite war and tragedy, The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom ends on a hopeful note, and shows a great stretching and growing of its characters. General historical fiction lovers will find this novel a wonderful read. Recommended.