15 October 2013

The Light In The Ruins by Chris Bohjalian, Book review

Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (July 9, 2013)
ISBN-13: 978-0385534819


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.

Here are my thoughts:

A New York bestseller, Chris Bohjalian has carved a name for himself on the famous list choosing often tragic moments in our history as the backdrop of his novels. I have not yet read 'The Sandcastle Girls' (a love story set amidst the Armenian genocide) but it features on my list! 

The Light In The Ruins is my first book by this author and whilst his gripping storytelling takes a little getting used to, it is none the less worth checking out. I must warn you however parts of the story are not for the squeamish! Personally I concentrated on the rest of the story preferring to ignore the gruesome details of the murders. 

Alternating betwixt the 1943 and 1955 periods of Italy's troubled times, the author draws a stunning psychological thriller and for those of you who anticipate lots of action, there are much of that in this story! Furthermore, the alternate 'voice' (in bold letters in the novel) of the killer is quite chilling!

The noble lineage of the Rosati family sets them apart in the Florence countryside yet like all their countrymen they suffer greatly during WW2. There is an uneasy relationship betwixt Axis allies and the Rosatis walk a very fine line, entertaining German officers even when supplies are scarce whilst resenting their presence and those of Black shirts (Fascists)  . 
An archaeologist, their eldest son Vittore is working with the Germans 'relocating' ancient artifacts for preservation. An ancient Etruscan site found decades earlier on his family land calls the attention of the SS in their constant search for Aryan roots.

By 1943, their family is torn apart with Italy surrendering to the invading Allies and the full force of German occupation hits them hard. There is little food to be had, their home is requisitioned and they have no news of their youngest son, an Italian officer in charge of securing Sicily's beaches.

Love blooms however for their younger daughter who meets a young Wehrmacht officer at the dismay of  her family. For Cristina, life revolves around her family, her lover and her horses.

It is now 1955, two hideous crimes are being committed, the victims related and Serafina the young detective in charge of the investigation remembers another time, another place: A damp place redolent with mushroom smells and a fresco showing a young boy rowing a boat...

Clearly the author knows his craft and if ghastly murders are to your taste, you will find this novel entertaining. 
Whilst the 1943 period rendering is faultless, I found however the depiction of the 1950's in Italy lacking somewhat in details. 
Finally with its definite allegory (Dante's Inferno), marginal events are left unclear, the ending a little too pat and disappoints.

I give it 4 stars.

(Etruscan artifacts)

About the Author:

Chris Bohjalian's new novel, The Light in the Ruins, arrived in July 2013. It's the tale of two young women in war-ravaged Tuscany in 1943 and 1944, one a partisan and one a noblewoman in love with a German lieutenant.
Another recent novel, The Sandcastle Girls, was published in July 2012 to great acclaim. A love story set in the midst of the Armenian Genocide, it debuted at #7 on the New York Times bestseller list, and appeared as well on the Publishers' Weekly, USA Today, and national Independent Bookstore bestseller lists.
USA Today called it "stirring. . .a deeply moving story of survival and enduring love." Entertainment Weekly observed, "Bohjalian - the grandson of Armenian survivors - pours passion, pride, and sadness into his tale of ethnic destruction and endurance." And the Washington Post concluded that the novel was "intense. . .staggering. . .and utterly riveting."

Visit his website (HERE)

Note to Readers: This was a library loan. This review was not requested and offers ONLY my opinion!


  1. I'm really looking forward to reading this one...if the copy I put on hold at the library ever comes! I haven't read too much set in Italy during WWII (that's what intrigued me), so I'm a bit sad to see there aren't a whole lot of details. Glad to see you liked it overall, though!

  2. There is not much fiction written about Italy's role during WW2 but Chris Bohjalian has a knack for finding a niche, hence his success! I hope you get your turn to read it Anna(I was surprised to see my own request granted so quickly!)


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