Friday, October 4, 2013

Review: The Light in the Ruins

Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge—set in war-ravaged Tuscany.

1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.

1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.

Set against an exquisitely rendered Italian countryside, The Light in the Ruins unveils a breathtaking story of moral paradox, human frailty, and the mysterious ways of the heart. -- Doubleday

I think I'm finally caught up with all of the reviews for my beach reads! It's embarrassing how long it's take me to write all of them -- a good six weeks. However, I now have a different problem. I don't have a big backlog of books to review and I am finding that I have less and less time to read. You  might be seeing less regular book reviews on my blog over the next few months. But enough about my petty concerns...

One of the highlights of my beach reading list was THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS by Chris Bohjalian. I am a huge fan of Mr. Bohjalian's and I seem to enjoy all of his books a great deal. That was certainly the case with THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS. Like some of his recent works, this novel was historical fiction, but it was also a terrific literary thriller. It goes without saying that I had big expectations for this novel -- Mr. Bohjalian and a mix of two of my favorite genres!

THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS takes place in Florence, Italy,  in 1943 and 1955. The Rosati family comes from a long line of nobles and lives on an estate with a beautiful villa. They believe that they will be safe from the war; however, soldiers arrive and request access to an ancient Etrusan burial site. The Rosatis, and especially the 18 year old daughter Cristina, face some drastic events.

Fast forward ten years after the war has ended... the Rosati family is facing a different sort of crisis. Someone is brutally murdering members of the family, one-by-one; and investigator Serafina Bettini is working the case. Serafina is dealing with scars from the war, both mental and physical ones; and her investigation into the murders causes her to uncover things not only about the Rosatis but also her own past.

What can I really say about THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS that hasn't already been said? It has received numerous positive reviews including starred ones from Library Journal and Booklist, and bloggers everywhere have been raving about this book for months. Of course, I agree with all of them. THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS was not only a well written and well researched piece of historical fiction, but it was also an intriguing literary thriller. Kind of the best of both worlds!

The stories in THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS go back and forth between Tuscany during World War II and Florence in 1955. Often times when a novel spans two different time periods, I find that I prefer one to the other. In the case of this book, I actually enjoyed both. The World War II parts were interesting from a historical perspective to me -- I pretty much knew nothing about the Nazi occupation of Italy, but I thought the character development, namely Serafina, and the mystery were better in the later sections. Mr. Bohjalian obviously did a great job of merging the two stories for optimal value!

There were many very good things about this novel that I'm hard pressed to just select a few to feature in this review. However, the one thing that keeps coming to my mind is the character of Serafina. I loved how complex she was. It unusual for her to be an investigator with a police department in 1955, and I appreciated seeing the challenges she faced as a result of being a woman as well as her process for solving crimes. But it was her inner struggles that really captured my interest. Serafina is damaged from the war in both visible and hidden ways, and I liked how investigating the Rosati murders brought to surface all of her pain. As she worked through finding the murderer, she was also forced to face some demons from her past. I found it all extremely interesting and loved how the author tied everything together.

This might come as a surprise (not!) but I think THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS would make a wonderful book club selection. I've read a few of Mr. Bohjalian's books for my book clubs through the years, and they always provide a lot of material for discussion. I was excited to find a discussion guide for this novel with thirteen stimulating questions. Some of the themes you might want to discuss include love, family, war, sacrifices, ethical dilemmas, survival, scars, and loss.

THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS is sure to be appreciated by fans of historical fiction and literary thrillers. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


techeditor said...

Glad to read that you highly recommend this. I won it from the publisher and will be reading it soon.

I've read two books by this author. I liked one, hated the other. So we'll see.

Sandy Nawrot said...

The only book of his I've read is The Night Strangers, but WOW was that one good! If that is any sample of his other work, I need to get busy. I guess I've read many (maybe too many) books that go back and forth, and involve WWII. But I trust this author. I'm going to have to seriously consider it.

bermudaonion said...

I've only read one of his books - Skeletons at the Feast - but I loved it and really want to read more of his work. This sounds fantastic!!

Beth Hoffman said...

This one sounds really good!

Beth F said...

I have this in audio -- hope to listen this month. I love his work.

Anna said...

This one is on my wish list! Glad to see you liked it. I still have to read Skeletons at the Feast.

Kim@Time2Read said...

I haven't read this one yet, but I plan to. Glad to hear it is a good one!