Set against this dramatic background, Russell traces the lives of a handful of fascinating characters, a charismatic Italian resistance leader, a Catholic priest, an Italian rabbi's family, and a disillusioned German doctor, telling the little-known but true story of the Italian citizens who saved the lives of 43,000 Jews during the war.
©2005 Mary Doria Russell; (P)2005 Books on Tape, Inc.
"An expansive, well-researched, and compelling novel." (Booklist)
"The action moves swiftly, with impressive authority, jostling dialogue, vibrant personalities and meticulous, unexpected historical detail. The intensity and intimacy of Russell's storytelling, her sharp character writing and fierce sense of humor bring fresh immediacy to this riveting WWII saga." (Publishers Weekly)
Having grown up in the years immediately following WWII, I thought that I had heard all of the "war stories". Having married a first generation Italian, I thought that I knew alot about the Italian involvement in WWII. This book did something that few books can do for me: it told me a story that I had never heard of before. Such grace under fire, such fine humanity, such noble characters. This is a magnificent book and something that I wish I had read MUCH earlier!
The book is amazing and deserves accolades for itself, but what I'm really enjoying about the audiobook is the reader, Cassandra Campbell. Her voice is clear and warm. With her accents, the difference between the pronunciation of Germanic German and Austrian German is quite clear in her voice. Both of these are, of course, completely distinguishable from her French and Italian. The accents help define the characters with the one's light high Italian and another's harsh Black Forest German. Also I find, that I can easily distinguish between male and female characters without a lot of false barritone from Campbell. I'm going to look for other works read by her.
I disagree with a few of the previous reviews; I thought the reader did a remarkable job with the numerous characters, languages and accents! I am not a world traveler,or expert in languages or dialogs, but I felt that the different characters were portrayed in a very believable and moving manner. Her changes in accent,tone and dialect helped me keep the large list of characters straight.
The story itself was both inspiring and sad. The Italian people and their "guests" were victorious, but only at a very high cost.
A recommended read to anyone interested in history and human survival.
I will agree with other reviewers that the reader was not the greatest--she was very distracting at first, but once I got interested in the story, I found I didn't care. I knew next to nothing about Italy during WWII before listening to this book. Now, I wish I knew more. This book is filled with many interesting characters, although the "main" character, Claudette Blum, is not really one of them. I found myself fascinated by Renzo Leone and the German doctor. It's hard to portray how riveting their characters were without giving away much of the story line. I'm sorry for those who could not get into this book because they missed an excellent story.
This is a beautifully written, carefully constructed novel that I won't soon forget. An exceptional addition to the body of work about the second world war, not only for its characters but also because this is a topic that's been overlooked. How Italians and Italian Jews in northern Italy came together to resist everything the German Reich could throw at them, and how many of them died, but more survived.
But the recording. It's a real pity, but here's the problem: somebody (the producer? the reader?) decided that a character's dialogue (but not the internal monologue or narrative) should be read in English with the accent of that language. As we are dealing here with characters from Belgium, France, Germany, the Ukraine, Austria, Poland, and a whole range of Italian dialects, this is extremely distracting, especially as the reader really doesn't do well with the German accents. And the task is really too much: A grandmother who is a native speaker of Ukrainian speaking German -- try reading dialogue in that accent. I'm not saying the reader is bad at languages, just the opposite. She reads the occasional Italian or French phrase very well -- just that this was a strategic decision was a big mistake. Especially as the author did not write the dialogue with any indication of accent.
Unlike the other reviewers I thought the narrator did a wonderful job. The accents helped to give the flavor of the mix of cultures coming togeter. She was clear and easy to understand.
Mary Doria Russell is among my very favorite authors.
A female narrator of a novel about good and evil in war, with its main characters being resistance fighters and SS officers is set-up for an impossible task. Female narrators rarely do good male voice imitations, with but a few exceptions. Cassandra Campbell has a beautiful melodic voice, but when she is trying to pose as a vicious SS officer shouting orders in English with a German accent, my annoyance could not have been greater. Because of the narration, I got cheated out of enjoying the male hero, Renzo, too. I give the story 5 stars. If only Mark Bramhall, Frank Muller, Edward Herrmann, Richard Poe, Simon Vance or Humphrey Bower could have read…..
I enjoyed the book so much so, that the following week, the author came to my city for a book reading and I had to go. I found myself so involved with the characters. I was left empty and very sad at the conclusion of the book. That sadness remained for a couple of weeks. My only recommendation would be to utilize different accents for the various characters.
Beautiful, sad, complex story. And Cassandra Campbell is an EXCELLENT narrator.
But I wish that whoever directed this audiobook production had made a some different choices. There is a huge cast of characters, and constantly moving between them can get confusing in an audiobook (more so, I think, than reading it on the page). At the very least, I wish that whoever edited it had put a few extra seconds of silence between each change of character -- so simple, and that would make a huge difference.
Going another direction though, I wonder if a book like this would be best served by having multiple narrators (maybe one for each major character?). Sort of like the way Let The Great World Spin is set up. You would lose the unity of having just Cassandra Campbell's voice throughout, but I think it might be worth it to keep the listeners from getting confused.
Lots of folks have commented on the accents. I don't think they were the best choice, but not overly distracting.
To conclude: A good audiobook, but needing improvements to be a great one. But still worth a credit, and a listen. Mary Doria Russell and Cassandra Campbell are both top notch.
I'm not quite finished it yet but so glad I bought this, multilayered, cultural, historical, romantic it's got the lot. As with all really good books I'm desperate to know what happens next but will be sad when it's over!
I had not read or listened to any of this novelist's work before I downloaded this novel, which I chose because I enjoy the narration of Cassandra Campbell. Of course, I was not disappointed by the narration: nor by the novel. The plot line you can read elsewhere, but it taught me much I did not know about the German-Italian Axis of WWII, as well as the geography of Northern Italy and Judaism!
Novels which inform as well as tell a story are always welcome. This is also a deeply-moving novel about the separation and mistreatment of Jewish families, of the bravery and courage of Italians who chose to shelter them and those who betrayed them, of the Italian partisan resistance, and of all the best and worst qualities war can bring out in humans. Although I thought I knew quite a bit about the Final Solution devised by Hitler for Europe's Jews, and anyone else the Nazis thought unworthy of living, this novel showed there was much I still did not know about its horrors, and it is at times a very harrowing, even distressing, novel. The author, rightly, does not spare the listener the horrors of war and there is often no happy ending for some of the characters the listener comes to like and admire. The meaning of the title is not revealed until near the end, and gives a glimmer of reason for optimism. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in learning more about the levels to which human qualities like compassion, kindness, bravery and selflessness can reach and, conversely, the human capacity for intolerance, ignorance, cruelty and selfishness. It certainly made me want to explore more of this author's work.
"Haunting, shocking, stays with you."
The story of Jews and Italian partisan fighters in rural Italy during WW2, this was always going to be gritty, but I was amazed at how deeply moved I was, by the story and by the characters, their astonishing bravery and unselfishness, and their ability to remain human in a world that had lost its grip on 'humanity'. Wonderful, insightful and deeply moving - beautiful. The narrator struggles to differentiate between different accents and it's not always easy to tell which character is speaking, but as some characters were pretending to have different nationalities she can perhaps be forgiven for this.
Thoroughly recommend this book although you may find it harrowing at times.
"Listen, and listen again, and several times more"
Atmospheric, rewarding, fast paced.
Renzo - he is engaging, charming, full of faults, he shocks, he will do something heroic and then afterwards sits sozzled and cursing, tragic, comic, surprising and always entertaining.
Not heard her before. I thoroughly enjoyed her interpretation for different characters, and her changes of pace and mood. She brought recognisable individuality to the main characters and her performance was a huge contribution to the success of the novel. I loved her accents (I don't know if the Italian pronounciation was accurate or not, but it really made the novel sing for me. Her German accents were perhaps a little bit overdone, but perhaps this all contributed to the mood and the Italian view of the German occupiers, and who cares about such tiny details in the context of the whole. Her accents were part of the story and really helped with who was who and who did what, constantly rearranging the atmosphere, and marking time and place and mood. You may notice an American pronounciation here and there that slightly interferes with your absorbed concentration if you are English, but that is only a tiny factor. I loved her performance, it was a huge and intrinsic part of my enjoyment.
There are many small scenes, little cameos, funny moments, moments of shock, and, what happened to some of the main characters at the end.
Please refer to the other reviews for the story.. I'll just say - you are invited to partake in a tender romance with the Italians - go for it, it's great. Be warned, there are so many characters and so many intricate details, that it is very difficult to follow initially. I found I had to re-listen many times to various parts, to sort out who was who, where they were and what was happening, but it was very well worth it.. Each time I engaged with each character more. You could be hypercritical, and say that some of the female characters are perhaps painted to be a little too perfect, but that is part of the romance, and to get the best out of it, you have to go with the flow. Your enjoyment will probably depend on how you listen to the story - if you are listening whilst busy on other things or falling asleep to it at the end of the day, you will have to replay some details to follow it, but if you are driving, it will fill many happy hours for you.. Once I had finished it, I immediately re-listened to the whole several more times and each time picked up on more atmosphere, more comic details, more little tragedies, more details painting each setting, and I am still re-listening to it and still enjoying it, it is unputdownable.
"Moving story of Italian Jews in WW2"
Never read the print version
This does not compare to other books as every book tells a different story.
I thought this narrator was outstanding, her italian accents were perfect. her ,voice was gentle but meaninful.
Sadly I am not a film producer, but I could see this being a film or TV dramatisation.
Without giving the plot away, it was a very moving story of what it was like to be a Jew in Italy during world war two. Woven through the book was a german doctors story, which pulled the book together beautifully. .
I never consider an audio or a movie version to be better or worse than the print version... they are different in all respects... this was a beautiful book to begin with, Russell is an amazing author - but the narration of this book was possible the BEST narration I have ever heard on any audio book!
Renzo, Angelo, Mirella, Suor Dimples.. it is very difficult to pick out any favorite character.
There are many characters in this book, from many different nations. Campbell managed to give each character it's own voice, while keep accents / nationalities clear throughout. Furthermore, her narrative tone reflected the attitudes and situations of the character and situations she was speaking of (rather than going flat... ). Her voice is lovely.. deep, rich, melodic - and she has not only perfect and masterful control of her acting performance, but of her vocal range and breath throughout.
"I Loved it"
Another superb book by Victoria Hislop in which one not only becomes deeply involved with the characters but learns so much history. I love her books but my favourite is The Island.
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