The Italian Party

Written by Christina Lynch
Review by Helene Williams

Michael Messina and his new bride, Scottie, seem to have it all, as young, beautiful Americans living in Siena, Italy, in the mid-1950s. Michael’s job is to sell American tractors to Italian farmers, as part of the United States’ assistance program in Europe. The Messinas have a new Ford Fairlane, an apartment with a view of the city’s main piazza, and their whole lives ahead of them. They also have some big secrets from each other, which readers learn about in the first pages of the novel.

Who Michael and Scottie really are emerges slowly through the narrative; life in a foreign country, with unfamiliar jobs, relationships, and even food, causes them to learn more about themselves and changes how they treat each other. All the trials a young couple go through—learning to live with each other, communicating feelings and desires, building a shared future—are more difficult because of both culture shock and the secrecy.

Lynch’s handling of the main characters is sensitive and honest; we feel their hidden pain and joy. The subplots, which include spying, kidnapping, horsemanship, and sexuality, add historical depth and nuance. Readers learn much about how the US government was actually involved in Cold War Europe, undermining regimes and influencing local economies and politics. The Italian characters range from prostitutes to politicians to elegant landowners, and Lynch draws them well, providing solid connections between them and the Americans. This novel is dashing, fun, sexy and witty—a fun read on multiple levels.