Siobhan’s latest novel (published in 2021) merges a modern-day granddaughter Charlotte who discovers a picture of the recently deceased grandmother, Elena with another young woman from when both served in the WWII Italian Resistance. Intrigued by the picture and puzzled by her grandmother’s cryptic words on her deathbed, Charlotte sets out to uncover her grandmother’s history. Her grandparents had never spoken about their time in the war when they fought the Nazi/Fascists alongside other members of the Italian Resistance, townsfolk and farmers unconnected with either side but who supported the resistance movement, Allied supporters, and Allied armies.
Charlotte is also fleeing a broken romance with a guy named Gary, who does not give up the pursuit of Charlotte even after her travel to Venice where her grandmother was born and lived until she emigrated to England when she was 25 with her fiancé (David), a British solider/consultant/liaison with the Italian Resistance.
The narrative alternates between Charlotte’s modern-day investigation, talking with the two remaining people who knew and worked with her grandmother during the war and who are still alive, and with Elena (originally named at birth, Lidia and known as Leonessa in the Italian Resistance) and her service in WWII.
At first it is hard to get into the story with the shifting back and forth between timelines but this fades away when Lidia/Elena/Leonessa’s story becomes fairly concrete early on. There is some foreshadowing as the result of Charlotte’s investigation, mostly as to other characters and minimally as to Lidia. this foreshadowing as to the other characters keeps the narrative from taking away from Lidia’s story which Siobhan wisely lets Lidia tell in her own way.
I came to this book because of my dad’s service in WWII as an American glider mechanic who saw time overseas in Germany from 1945-1946 as part of the occupation and liberation force. Dad, like Lidia, would not speak about his time, about what he saw, except for one brief time when he told two fellow choir members about seeing the Dachau concentration camp soon after it had been liberated. He wondered if he had the strength to relive this when the group my parent and I visited the camp in the latter part of the 20th century.
My knowledge of the Italian Resistance was that it existed but that was all. The Girl From Venice enriched my knowledge in a way that was not an info dump. The Girl From Venice ranks up with Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See and is a companion piece to other books I’ve reviewed including Steven Donahue’s Solahütte, Aaron Rockett’s Fake Papers, and Irma Joubert’s The Girl From The Train.
I received a copy from NetGalley for an honest review. It is an amazing book though I made two suggestions for readers with little knowledge of WWII Italy and/or the Italian language — a glossary of often-used Italian words and phrases in the book and a map of WWII Italy.