Tag Archives: Historical Novels

Review: Lambrusco: A Novel

Lambrusco, by Ellen Cooney, is an excellent and compelling study of life during the Nazi invasion of Italy, told by the protaganist, Lucia Fantini, widow of Aldo. It is a very descriptive novel, filled with fantastic characters, all varied in thought, physical appearance and personality.

At times, due to the content and amount of individuals, it is difficult to try to keep track of who is who in the scheme of the story, but Cooney makes that a little easier for us by listing the characters and their place in the story on a separate page, before the story begins.

Lucia is at the forefront of everyone, and her presence emanates strength and assertiveness. Lucia is caught up in trying to find her son Beppi, who blew up a German tank and immediately went into hiding. She is upset, not only because she doesn’t know where he is, but upset more due to the fact that he blew up the tank and didn’t tell her!

Thinking such as that is what fills this book with humor and poignancy combined. That is one of the strengths of the writing. The story shows us how laughter can seep through the darkness of war. Talk about unique perspectives and story lines, Lambrusco has them both.

Lucia is an opera singer in her seaside restaurant. She would sing in the restaurant, attracting villagers from miles around. Her music filled their souls, while the food and Lambrusco wine filled their stomachs.

She smuggled guns and other items for them, both into and out of the restaurant, hidden in her purse or her coat pocket, hidden by scarves, etc.  She would take them by train to the partisans. With the war as a backdrop for the book, we are given descriptive word images of how the Italians band together in order to fight off the “nazifascisti” and survive as they travel through farmlands, from city to village, back again.

Lucia reflects on her life, her deceased husband who she believes watches over her and speaks to her. Much of her narrative is seen through her reflections on the past, her thoughts for the future, and also through her fantasies and dreams. She dreams of singing and of imaginary operas, she dreams of Caruso, Fellini films, of great opera singers debating with each other over who sings better. Her world is filled with fantasy and humor, and these dreams are what keep her alive, as they constantly play and resound in her head.

Cooney infuses comic relief within the confines of war-torn Italy in a most effective manner, and she knows just where to insert it. She never undermines or sweetens the devastation of war. It is not only the German occupation they are surviving from, but also the American bombings in Italy, ruining everything from factories to churches and homes in the landscape.

Lucia is struggling, herself, and Lambrusco is her journey, not only of survival, but journey of finding ones’ Self. Much of Lucia’s attitude, and the attitudes of the Italian villagers, stems from suspicions and their beliefs in legends myths, superstitions, concoctions, and ghosts that appear to them.

Cooney is excellent in weaving the various family tapestries, friendships and stories together. Her writing is rich with characters, and with a landscape embellished with ravages of war. It is a beautifully written metaphor for love of family and friends, for humanity and responsibility, and concern for each member of the community, as each one is a piece of the whole.

Lambrusco is often filled with comical interactions, but beneath the comedy lies a poignant and serious account of Italy during World War II. Ellen Cooney writes with sensitivity to the ramifications of war, demonstrating not only cognizance, but also historical importance of events of the time period..

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Infidelities, by Josip Novakovich

Infidelities, by Josip Novakovich, encompasses a collection of short stories, taking place within Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, etc., stories that make us question exactly what the word infidelity actually means. Josip’s stories also make us question the rewards and/or resulting repercussions of our choices.

Are we involved in infidelity if our thoughts are with another person, instead of on our spouse? Are we then demonstrating infidelity towards our personal faith, if we think of another religion which might bring us a sense of peace and solace, during a difficult situation, during war, during life events? What would you do in order to keep your child out of the army, during time of war? What is ethical and not ethical, in the medical field, when a man who is a draft dodger awaits a new heart, only to lose it to deceptive tactics, so a military general can receive it?

These, and many more questions arise when reading this compelling collection of life situations. The stories in Infidelities make us think of our own life situation/s, and how we might handle them, given the same set of circumstances. Would we do as the characters in Infidelities did?

Some characters choose to be humane, some choose to be lacking in goodness, others are fleeing genocide, and we see individuals of varying backgrounds and religious beliefs banding together in a state of togetherness. Most of the characters in the book are trying to escape emotional pain, trying to find some happiness within survival in landscapes of devastation and tragedy. Due to the fact that the book is a collection of stories, I can’t go into detail any further. You will just have to read the book yourself to understand the stories, characters, situations, etc., that are woven throughout Infidelities.

Josip Novakovich is brilliant in his insight and masterful in his story telling. He weaves through situations, events and family dynamics, often brutal in his clarity and assessment of humanity within adverse situations that humankind face. Each story is intense, thought-provoking, and a testament to a master author. Infidelities is no less than an exceptional and extraordinary masterpiece. Bravo to Josip Novakovich!

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The Septembers of Shiraz, by Dalia Sofer

Dalia Sofer’s first book, The Septembers of Shiraz, is an excellent novel, written with colorful and detailed word imagery, covering a one-year period from September 1981 to September 1982.  Sofer was ten years old when her own Jewish family escaped Iran. That fact might just be the event that gives her insight into the Jewish condition and also sensitivity regarding the plight of the oppressed and the poverty stricken during the post Iranian Revolution years.

“When Isaac Amin sees two men with rifles walk into his office at half past noon on a warm autumn day in Tehran, his first thought is that he won’t be able to join his wife and daughter for lunch, as promised.”

Isaac Amin is an Iranian Jewish gem dealer. His office is stormed by two Revolutionary Guards, as he is suspected of being a spy due to his wealth and frequent trips to Israel, and also due to the fact he has ties to the Shah. He is  arrested, imprisoned, interrogated, tortured and in constant fear for his life, living under stark circumstances, and within the confines of Anti-Semitism. Armin has nothing but time on his hands to think, and he is fearful about his wife and nine-year old daughter, who do not know of his whereabouts. He thinks about his son, Parviz, who is a student, living in Brooklyn, with his own set of insecurities and problems. Within the prison walls is one humane guard, who takes it upon himself to be Amin’s caretaker, during Amin’s darkest hours and days. Armin knows he can rely on him.

Imprisonment gives Amin time to think about his life, and what is meaningful to him, and how he wishes he could take back time and do certain things differently (not work as hard, be more attentive to his wife and family). He realizes he has worked his entire life with valuable jewels, but has not put as high a value on his family as he should have. Amin wishes he could be set free so he could try to redeem himself with his family.

Meanwhile, Farnaz, his wife, is in constant distress, trying to cope with the situation and run the household without knowing where her husband is (telling her daughter that Amin has gone on a trip). She searches for him to no end. Farnaz thinks that her housekeeper has turned Amin in. This mistrust gives her to contemplate her relationship, with those who work for her, wondering if she has been misguided, and wondering if she has treated them as well as she thinks she has. She has been a self-absorbed person, to some degree, throughout the years, and is now realizing what is most valuable to her, and wishes things could be different.

The family is used to the finer things in life, and Farnaz has time to reflect upon what is important to her…possessions or her husband…material things or familial relationships. She too would like more time with her husband in order to make atonement and redeem herself.

Sofer brings us a strong story line, bringing us glimpses of life after the Iranian Revolution, and her characters are extremely believable. She infuses emotional estrangement, Jewish identity and assimilation with the bravery and humanity of souls,  bringing us sympathetic characters within a harsh and cruel environment. Her first novel is a page-turner, a definitive with descriptive images, a realized, poignant and thought-provoking historical work of fiction, reading more like non-fiction.

I personally own and have read this book.

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