The Light in the Ruins

Written by Chris Bohjalian
Review by Viviane Crystal

What was it like for Italians and Germans to coexist as allies when the reality was that neither trusted each other? In 1943, the Italians south of Florence are wondering whether the Allies or Germans will fully invade Italy first and hoping secretly that it will be the former. The Rosati family is considered Italian aristocracy; their social position and the discovery of an Etruscan burial site on their property earn them the constant presence of German soldiers, who want to abscond with any valuable art as German loot. In fear and loathing, the Rosati parents watch their youngest daughter, Cristina, fall in love with a young, crippled German lieutenant, and then multiple Germans take over their home as residence.

The reader can vicariously feel the overwhelming guilt they feel for collaborating and their desperation to cooperate in order to survive. One senses how agonizing such a decision was on a daily basis, as well as its long-term effects. Add to the mayhem that ten years later, in 1955, someone is murdering the Rosati family one by one; the murderer’s killing method is exceedingly gruesome, producing horror and revulsion in the reader, as well as an automatic question of who could hate so deeply to commit such a vile act. Serafina, a former resistance fighter and now a detective, is involved in solving the Rosati murders; she is mysteriously connected to this family, and her emotionally torn memories as a result of her investigation may prove to be her psychological undoing.

Tuscany is now known as a beautiful tourist part of Italy, but its story as a brutal battleground of WWII needs to be told — and is done so here on personal, familial and social levels. Memorable, significant, and powerful historical fiction!