Tag Archives: Italian History

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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Four Books I Highly Recommend

I recently finished four books which I highly recommend.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – If you are interested in animal studies (a chimpanzee being raised as a girl’s sibling, how they both interact with each other and with other family members), and how this situation altered the young girl’s life, then this is a book for you. I totally enjoyed the novel, and appreciate the author’s untiring research in order to bring credence to the novel.

Henna House – Henna is absorbing in more ways than one, along with tradition, culture, and Yemin Jews within the pages of this excellent novel.

Limbo: A Novel, holds a story line that is relevant in many aspects, especially regarding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in those who have been wounded while in the military, fighting a war in a foreign land.

Raquela: A Woman of Israel is an story about an amazing woman, a woman with deep regard for humanity and human life, and a woman of devotion to her country and her job as nurse during a crucial time in Israel.

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Book Diva Review: The Periodic Table

the periodic table2 The Periodic Table is a well-written book, giving us insight into the scientific mind, thoughts and emotions of its author, Primo Levi. The book is basically a memoir, and the 21 stories are written through the perspective of a chemist and also through the perspective of a writer. Chemistry and writing were the two primary passions of Levi.

“There are the so-called inert gases in the air we breathe. They bear curious Greek names of erudite derivation which mean “the New,” “the Hidden,” “the Inactive,” and “the Alien.” They are indeed so inert, so satisfied with their condition, that they do not interfere in any chemical reaction, do not combine with any other element, and for precisely this reason have gone undetected for centuries.”

Thus begins the book, and each of the 21 stories are named for a chemical element in the Periodic Table (not to be confused with the Title of the book). The actual Periodic Table contains 118 elements.

After finishing The Periodic Table, one might assume that it is a book that was written about the Holocaust. The primary structure of the book (including the opening lines), has an undertone of the Holocaust within its pages, as it was of extreme importance to Levi to bear witness. If one pays attention to the titles of the individual stories, it is obvious the Holocaust has an important “between-the-lines” synthesis tying the stories together, subtly, without being mentioned outright. The element of Fascism has strong overtones in the book. Levi is astutely cognizant of the fact that many Italian Jews grasped Fascism, without realizing its consequences. A large percentage of these Jews were not “practicing Jews”, and were assimilated within the Italian culture, ignorant of the possible outcome their choices would inflict on them and their families.

The main reflection in Levi’s book is the growth of Levi from his childhood and chemical experimenting with a friend, attending a university where Levi studied chemistry and experimented in university labs, and to finally graduating and becoming a chemist by profession. He also become a well-known author of novels and poetry, mingling his scientific mind with poetic emotions, creating chemistry and chemical reactions of his own, in written form.

Each element in the book coincides with a time period of Levi’s life, and we see him move through prewar Fascism to World War II where he was sent to Auschwitz. His brilliance in formulating this book and its structure has amazed me. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was not disappointed, and in fact, I was in awe of Primo Levi as an author, in extremely impressed with his ability to blend chemistry and prose and create such a compelling book. After finishing The Periodic Table, I wanted to read more of his works, especially his poetry, and I have done just that.

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