“A Thread of Grace“, by Mary Doria Russell is an exceptional novel set in Italy during World War II. There aren’t too many novels that take place in the powerful setting of German occupied Italy during the final year of the war, that explore the humanity, humbleness, the partisans, and the willingness of the Italians to help hide both Jewish refugees and Italian Jews.
Russell infuses “A Thread of Grace” with historical fact, and much of it is based on accounts that Italians have relayed to her, memoirs, and on personal stories of both Italian Jews and Jewish refugee Survivors of World War II. The drama within the book is strong. She combines a deep sense of time and place within the pages. The three main famiiies and characters are given strong traits, including their ideals, ethics and religion, within the framework of World War II.
The characters are all named by Russell, before the book’s beginning. They range in age, and are a colorful group of individuals, from Catholics to Jews, from priests to rabbis, farmers to traders, a war hero and a German deserter, nuns, orphans, and all of them are fighting the same cause. Each one of them is trying to stay alive during the most adverse of times. And, each one of them is determined to try to save their Jewish neighbors and friends, including the Jewish refugees. Within the rubble and bombs the strength of each individual unfolds. Whether they live or die is inconsequential, as far as they are concerned. Whether they fight the fight is the primary issue for each one of them. Each individual is determined to contribute their all, no matter the outcome.
War-torn Italy has seen much horror, damage, destruction and lives lost, not only due to the German occupation, but also the allied bombings. The fascists are strong, the German army is powerful and well organized. The resistance and partisans are a force to contend with, and the common thread within the villages and towns and its residents is the sameness of their humanity, the role of human kind under war time circumstances, and the shared losses both Catholics and Jews feel, as one. Each person considers themselves to be a piece of the whole, a thread in the fabric of time.
We have Italian Jews, including the rough, tough Renzo Leoni (my favorite character) along with his widowed mother, Lidia Segre. She is as tough as he is. There is Rabbi Iacopo Soncini and his wife, Mirella Casutto. Angelo is their young son, and Rosina is their daughter. Some of the Jewish refugees are Claudette Blum, a teenager, and her father Albert Blum. Duno Brossler is a partisan from Austria, and Liesl and Steffi are his younger sisters, while Rivka Ivanova Brossler is his paternal grandmother. There are several Italian Catholics, including Suora Marta, Massimo Malcovato, the major, the priest Osvaldo Tomitz and the priest Don Leto, Santino Cicala is an infantryman, and so many other Catholics, who strive to help the Jews. There are some British characters, and a German character who is trying to receive absolution from a priest, as he sent 90,000 Jews to their death) woven within the pages.
I won’t go into much detail regarding the story line, but you can gather from what I have stated that it is a story whose characters strive for the same ending, the same result, regardless of age, nationality or religion. You need to read “A Thread of Grace“, yourself, in order to appreciate the intense story, and the author’s efforts.
Mary Doria Russell has written a tapestry of time, whose threads are stretched, worn thin, and threads that often tear and wrinkle, whose weavings tell tales of courage, strength, determination, ideals, ethics, morals, and love and loss, and even redemption, under the extreme circumstances of war. Her descriptives and visuals are incredible and commanding. The strength behind her words convey paintings before our eyes. “A Thread of Grace” is a brilliant book and a masterpiece of humanity, in a world where the loss of one human being becomes the shared and common loss of the entire village or town, the collective as a whole. Mary Doria Russell brings historical fact into the realm of the novel, sensitively, with her overpowering sense of humankind and careful detail to time, place and people. I highly recommend “A Thread of Grace“.