A Thread of Grace


A book by Mary Doria Russell is always a treat, and this is no exception; however, I must admit to being somewhat disappointed in the end of this exceptional book.

I am not a student of WW II. Frankly I know almost nothing about it. As a result, I learned a tremendous amount about the Italian Campaign and what exactly happened in Italy while reading the book. For example, I had not realized that Italy essentially capitulated in 1943 and was thereafter a puppet state of Germany. I thought that at the point of Italian surrender, Mussolini had been executed, but it was in fact at the defeat of Germany. So the book served as a sovereign remedy for a certain blind spot I have in history.

More than that, it is an excellent story about how the Italian people joined together to save the Jews that had escaped from Nice (and such native Italian Jews as they could). The story starts with a harrowing march from Nice to the small towns of Northern Italy. It chronicles two years of terror for nearly everyone in those small towns as the Nazis attempt to force the townspeople to surrender the Jews to them. In our small history, no one does so.

Another point in Russell's favor, she appears to have no ideological axe to grind. The Pope is not singled out for doing nothing. The only mention of the concordat is a mention in favor of what it did well and how it was used to help the cause. The priests in the book are holy and ultimately self-sacrificing. If there is any small fault it is that everyone (other than most of the Nazis) is so darned noble that one begins to wonder how a war was fought at all.

And perhaps that is what makes me a little disappointed at the ending of the novel. Suddenly, internicine strife of which we have had nearly no indication begins to snuff out people one by one until, at the very end, there appear to be something like three people left whom we have met in the novel. Somehow, I felt this did not ring true and I'm uncertain of Russell's purpose in bringing the novel to a close this way.

Nevertheless, despite reservations about the ending, I must recommend this book to those who wish to know more about the conduct of the war in Italy, about people who risked everything to help strangers who did not even speak their language, about human nobility in the face of absolute horror. Once again, beautiful written and compassionate--if you can believe it even to the perpetrator of all of this horror (even while not exonerating or taking away one smidgen of his ultimate responsibility and guilt).

Treat yourself--try this book. If you enjoy it (and you read Science Fiction) you will find The Swallow (aka Jesuits in Space) to be an even finer, more satisfying, if puzzling read. Enjoy!

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 23, 2005 9:00 AM.

A Grace Note on the Charismatic Renewal was the previous entry in this blog.

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