I’ve read a lot of World War II fiction in my time, but the majority of it has focused on Britain, Germany and/or France. This was one of the first historical novels that I read set in Mussolini’s Italy — specifically, in the 1930s when Mussolini was working to drain the Pontine Marshes. The story itself was so-so, but I’m interested in recommendations for others set during this time, if y’all have any?
10 years ago, in a plaza in the beautiful town of Bellina, Isabella Berotti and her husband were both struck by bullets. Her husband, a “Blackshirt” under Mussolini, was killed. Isabella escaped alive, but lost her pregnancy and has a permanent limp. Now she works as an architect, helping improve her town (and Mussolini’s image) through her buildings. One day, while sitting in the same plaza, a woman comes up to her and asks her to watch her 10 year old daughter. The woman says some mysterious things about Isabella’s husband, then fling herself off a building and dies. Now Isabella must figure out what really happened to her husband, and why this woman left a child in her care.
The characters and the setting fascinated me; the story…not so much. Isabella and the photographer that she befriends/falls in love with remain determined to solve this mystery that I didn’t care too much about (Isabella’s husband was not a nice man). Meanwhile, in the background, we see what Mussolini and his men were doing to Italy — moving people around, creating new buildings, draining marshes. I wanted to learn about that! About the espionage that Isabella’s father and new lover were involved in. Someone find me that book please.