Wednesday, May 21, 2014

THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS by Chris Bohjalian

It’s Italy near the end of WWII, and not everyone is a Mussolini fan.  In fact, the Nazis are viewed with rabid distaste, even though Italy is aligned with Germany.  A dozen years later, a serial killer, who provides some of the narration, is literally ripping out the hearts of the members of the Rosati family, one by one, seeking revenge for some unknown offense.  Serafina Bettini is a rare entity for the 1950s—a female police officer.  She is investigating the crimes and also has a connection to the Rosatis, because she took refuge among the crypts in the Etruscan ruins on the family property during the war.  From all indications, the cause of the murders dates back to the war, since the Rosatis billeted Nazi officers in their villa, although not exactly with open arms, and the youngest daughter fell in love with a not-so-zealous German lieutenant.  There are plenty of clues as to who might have found the Rosatis’ liaisons with the Germans unpalatable, but the family’s unforgiveable crime is not revealed until the end.  Still, nothing justifies the killer’s cold-blooded obsession with wiping them out.  War makes people do unthinkable things to save themselves, and this book crystallizes all the ambiguity of being Italian during this most horrible of times.  It’s definitely a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” situation.  Whom should you fear most?  The cruel Nazis with no respect for human life, or your fellow countrymen who may or may not exact just as high a price later?  Plus, sometimes the choice is not about saving your own life but rather about loved ones versus strangers.  In this case, an ironic outcome for the ones who were saved means that the wrong choice was made, but no one could have foreseen that at the time.

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