There are an infinite amount of stories to tell that involve World War II because virtually everyone in the world was touched by it. Every country, and every individual, has a different point of view about the conflict. Chris Bohjalian explores the perspective of an Italian family in his new novel “The Light in the Ruins.” Bohjalian is the author of one my favorite Oprah Book Club picks, “Midwives,” and because of that I have read almost all of his work. His books have engaging story-lines, well-written characters, and solid writing.
“The Light in the Ruins” is a revenge novel set in 1955 that involves a merciless killer who targets members of the Rosatis, a prominent Tuscan family. The story moves between the last years of WWII and 1955 and introduces quite a few characters into the story, which means that there is no shortage of suspects for the unknown killer.
The central WWII story focuses on Christina Rosati, who is young, innocent, and in love with a German officer. The interwoven story line centers on Serafina Bettini; a detective trying to figure out who has a vendetta against the Rosati’s, as she comes to grips with her own history that involves them. The different threads of the story come together in an ending that is a bit anti-climatic. This novel is best at demonstrating that nobody comes out of war fully intact, and decisions that are made under horrible conditions can have a lasting impact.
“The Light in the Ruins” is a good read, but I would not add it to the top of my reading list. There are several other books that involve WWII that I’ve read over the last year that are ESSENTIAL reads. If you’ve missed the below books, I recommend grabbing them:
- “The Invisible Bridge” by Julia Orringer. I love this book! It is a massive, devastating tale about a Hungarian Jewish family during WWII. It takes place in Budapest and Paris, two of the best places I have ever visited, and it shows the unimaginable ruin that these cities endured. The characters are unforgettable, even though, as Orringer writes about the main character, “He was just an animal on Earth, one of billions.”
- “Burnt Shadows” by Kamila Shamsie. This book begins in Nagasaki when the bomb was dropped and ends with 9/11. It follows the lifetime of a Japanese woman and her multi-cultural, complicated family. Shamsie is an incredible writer who brings all of her characters to life as they face the political situations of their countries.
- “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. This is based on the true story of Louis Zamperini, a United States Air Force bomber in WWII. Zamperini crashes into the Pacific Ocean and endures unbelievable events for the next three years. It is hard to read because it is so descriptive, but Hillenbrand’s gift for narrative had me staying up late to read another chapter. She writes, “As he watched this beautiful, still world, Louie played with a thought that had come to him before…such beauty, he thought, was too perfect to have come by chance. That day in the Pacific was, to him, a gift crafted deliberately, compassionately, for him and Phil.”
- “No One is Here Except All of Us” by Ramona Austebul. Austebul has a very unique voice and her narrative beautifully illustrates the power of stories and how they keep people alive. An isolated Romanian village comes up with a very strange way of hiding from the world, but of course, there was no escaping the horrors of the Holocaust.
- “Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson. This novel is set in England and has a central character, Ursula, who continues to be reborn and re-do her life during the years leading up to WWII. It is so good! One of her paths involves a Hitler murder story, and others involve the bombings of London in WWII. This books demonstrates all the different paths our lives can take and all the simple, basic decisions that we make can change everything.
All of the books listed above are fantastic, “The Invisible Bridge” is the one that I’d recommend the most. Let me know if you’ve read any of the above and what your thoughts on them are!
Make sure to watch (or Tivo) “Super Soul Sunday” on OWN this weekend – Anne Lamott will be on it! I have watched her speak live twice before and she is always candid, funny, and inspiring. In the previews for the show, Lamott is saying “To be born is a miracle.” I can’t wait to watch the full interview.