I don't read a heck-of-a-lot of adult novels since I became a children's librarian. That's why I like my book club - it forces me to read one every now and then. I thought this novel had an awful lot of characters. New ones were hopping on board with less than a fourth of the book to finish. I prefer fewer characters in books but that might be the result of reading so many kids books. That said, there is no denying that Russell is brilliant at developing characters. I guarantee you'll find at least one that you like. My problem is if I don't like a character I buzz through the other characters trying to get to the one I like - something I did with this book. If you are a patient reader then you probably don't have this problem. So.... while I did like the characters, I wished the plot had more twists and was less predictable.
This story takes place in Italy during the Holocaust. The Holocaust. My heart sinks. I know people are going to die. I know they are going to die in horrible ways. I know that fear reigns supreme and that people will turn on each other. I oftentimes approach Holocaust books with dread because I find them depressing, violent, and hopeless. Russell's book was and was not like that. Many of the characters are funny and good ordinary people risk their lives to help them. Russell doesn't really show characters that side with the Germans and turn in neighbors. Claudette is the first character we meet. She is fleeing with other Jewish refugees to Italy that has just surrendered to the Allies. Claudette is hoping for peace, but instead finds Nazis living in cities, Resistence fighters at war with them, ordinary civilians trying to survive, and a man who falls in love with her.
Russell does a terrific job getting you emotionally invested before killing the characters off. Some readers like this type of book. I don't. I didn't want to become emotionally invested in the characters (and I find it harder to when there are so many). So I didn't. I put up a wall and didn't let myself love them. I was having an emotionally exhausting week at work and didn't want to go there. So I force-fed myself the pages of the book and thus have a not-so-good book review. If you want a more well-rounded review on characters and plot, I suggest Ben Babcock's review (contains spoilers). He does a nice job.
Russell is a fabulous writer. I enjoyed her book, The Sparrow, but I didn't really give this novel a fair shake. If you like reading about the Holocaust and enjoy a character-driven book, then I highly recommend this one.
4 out of 5 Smileys