The Girl from Venice

Written by Martin Cruz Smith
Review by Jeanne Greene

Smith sets his latest novel in 1945, when the last European battles of WWII are being fought on Italian soil. While the Allies are advancing on Milan, Mussolini, abandoned by the Germans, falls into partisan hands, which leads to his execution. Venice alone remains untouched.

Cenzo, a 28-year-old Venetian fisherman, takes his boat out every day and brings back his catch without ever seeing a soldier. Well-traveled, well-read, and a former soldier, Cenzo could find other ways to earn a living, but his joy comes from knowing the sea. An unfamiliar shape in the water turns out to be a young woman’s body; when he pulls it into his boat, Cenzo finds her alive. Giulia is Jewish. German soldiers are looking for her, but why? The Axis has been defeated; the war in Europe is almost over. Cenzo kills a German, hides Giulia, but she disappears. Cenzo tracks her to the mainland, where he is drawn into partisan violence, German double-crosses, and expatriate infighting as getting out of Italy becomes increasingly difficult. Cenzo doubles for his brother, a handsome actor, and with a stolen gun and a borrowed plane, attempts to find Giulia to see her safely back to Venice. There is a great deal of explaining to do, but Cenzo’s good at that, too.

An Italy bereft of dreams makes an outstanding setting. Cenzo, who is touched by the plight of any woman while respecting her abilities, is an appealing protagonist. The sharp dialogue, complicated but undemanding plot, and the touching, if unlikely, romance will make a good movie. But you don’t have to wait for the film treatment: The Girl from Venice is fun to read.