“Outside the open window, Cristina heard her mother and father speaking with Francesca on the terrace. Francesca was telling them about the visit from the two soldiers….Beside her, Alessia chirped happily that her grandfather and grandmother were back and raced downstairs. And so Cristina submerged her ears beneath the water and the world grew a little quieter; her hair fanned out atop the plane and she ran her fingers through it and was reminded of a goddess in a Renaissance painting. Her mind wandered far from the villa and the ruins and her unshakable sense that her world was about to change.” Chris Bohjalian, THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS
From the New York Times best-selling 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 was 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.
Many of my fellow bloggers have long been recommending Bohjalian’s work to me, and for reasons I cannot explain, this is the first of his novels I have read. It most certainly will not be my last.
Bohjalian is a writer of the highest caliber. His faraway historical settings are transportive and intoxicating, and his characters are realistic and flawed. THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS is one of those rare gems whose compelling plot is conveyed with richly readable and evocative prose.
I was entranced by life at the Villa Chimera before and during the war, and the losses of the family are felt acutely in the depiction of the ruins in the “present” of the book, 1955. The narratives run parallel for most of the novel, until the past catches up to the present in the form of a truly terrifying and vicious serial killer. (Note that the book is quite graphic.) Readers will stay up long after their bedtimes to reach the conclusion of this excellent work of literary suspense.
I give THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS my highest recommendation.