Been meaning to read this for ages because I really loved The Sparrow and although Children of God was an obvious sequel with nowhere near the impact of the first book, Russell’s novel Doc was excellent. So I’m kind of a Russell fan.
The book begins in the month Italy announced its alliance with the Allies in WWII, September 1943. The Jews of France fled there in large numbers thinking it would be a place of safety. But such was not the case as Hitler’s forces just followed them. This resulted in a whole lot of messy fighting.
In the mountains of the Piedmont the local and mostly Catholic Italians had to put up with German and Italian Forces as well as Communist partisans, Jewish Italians, Jewish immigrants and German deserters. The local people try to protect the immigrant Jews from the German forces but often just who is whom gets mixed up.
There are a LOT of characters but Russell included a list at the beginning of the book.
The book opens with a Jewish girl and her father, Claudia and Albert Blum, leaving France for Italy. They meet an Italian soldier who helps them get to a safe place. City Jews send money and supplies to help the school harbor the refugees. Then a German defector shows up begging a priest’s absolution.
This book is based on true events which Russell explains in a Note at the end.
I knew the history (generally). There’s no real plot to follow (until about page 300), there are just several story lines which weave in and out alternating. Few of the abundance of characters are well developed although the “types” are certainly there. There are very few ethical dilemmas for the reader – only for some of the characters.
On the good side, the novel is not about any of those things but rather about the situation in Italy after Germany invaded toward the end of the war. There were immigrant Jews, Italian Catholics, German military people, Communists, mothers, daughters, fathers and sons, there were drunks and priests and lovers.
Mentioned on pg 27 Guido Lospinoso:
In response the Germany’s dissatisfaction, Mussolini set up the polizia razziale (Racial Police), appointing Guido Lospinoso Inspector General of Racial Policy. Lospinoso was sent to Nice with assurances of compliance with Nazi policy. However, once in Nice, Lospinoso, with urgings from Capuchin priest Pére Marie Benoit from Marseilles, refused to implement the deportation orders. He evaded the SS Gestapo and other Nazi officials who tried to meet with him by going into hiding. The Germans finally concluded that Lospinoso was not only ignoring orders, he was actively involved in saving Jews. Lospinoso didn’t care. With the help of Father Benoit and Angelo Donati, a Roman Jewish banker, he delayed deportations and arranged the transfer of thousands of Jews to remote areas of the South of France, like Cap Martin, near Monaco.
There’s a saying in Hebrew,” he tells her, ” ‘No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there’s always a thread of grace.’