The Light in the Ruins
by Chris Bohjalian
Hardcover- N/A

From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and ...

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  "The Light In The Ruins, Chris Bohjalian" by thewanderingjew (see profile) 08/02/13

The book opens in 1955 with the description of the brutal murder of a still good-looking, middle-aged woman, details of which, using italics, are related to the reader by the actual murderer,
The story then backpedals to Tuscany, in 1943, to the Villa Chimera, the home of the Marchese and Marchesa, Antonio and Beatrice Rosati, Cristina, their daughter, and their daughter-in-law, Francesca, and her children, Alessia and Massimo. The Rosati sons are both in the Italian army. One, Vittore, works in a museum and the other, Francesca’s husband, Marco, is on the front someplace in Italy. Many of the Italians are forced to alternately support the Italian Army or the German Army, depending on the fortunes of war, since Italy was originally aligned with Germany. Although some are not sympathizers with much of the policies of either Mussolini or Hitler, they are still caught, very much in the middle, when their villages or their villas attract the eye and attention of some Italians or Germans in the hierarchy of the military or the government.
When the story returns to 1955, we learn that it is Francesca who has been brutally murdered, and we are introduced to Serafina, a former partisan fighter, who had been severely injured, near death, in 1944, at the end of the war, and who is now the only female homicide detective in the police department. She is working on this murder case with Paolo, her partner. For Serafina, the investigation opens the wounds of the past, when she was a young teen, without family, fighting for her life and her freedom, together with the partisans. She has no real memory of how she was so gravely injured, but since she was in the forest near the Rosati property, she wonders if there could be a connection there, to her past.
As she interviews Cristina, we learn that she was visiting her sister-in-law for lunch in Florence, where she once conducted a rather amorous and illicit affair with a German soldier, Friedrich, who worked with her brother in the museum in Florence. This led to a rather colorful and malicious reputation for herself and her family. Currently, however, she resides in Rome with the Marchesa. The fictional villa, in Tuscany, where the family once lived and housed the Germans, is no longer really habitable, and there is neither the money required to restore it or the desire to do so, but it is an important link to all that occurs in the story. Since the villa was, and is now, in an even worse state of disrepair, and since it is associated with too much loss and too much tragedy for the family and townspeople, who have mixed feelings toward them because of their wartime behavior, the decision not to return was not a very difficult one.
When the story returns to the italics in which the murderer’s ultimate goal is revealed, there is enormous tension created for the reader. Even though the murderer is informing the reader of future plans to destroy every last, living member of the Rosati family, rather than boring or disappointing the reader, since they now know the ultimate plot, it seems that just knowing this information only seems to make the narrative more exciting and the solution to the mystery more inaccessible. So, although I found it a bit unnerving when the murderer related his plans, the foreknowledge certainly heightened my anticipation of events to come, and although I tried to solve the mystery of who the killer might be, until the last few pages, my guesses were all misguided! This author has the gift of keeping the reader on the edge of the seat, wanting to hurriedly turn the next page to discover a clue to solve the mystery, only to be maddeningly led in another plausible direction.
As the story moves back and forth between the past, 1943 and eventually 1944, and the present (1955) murder investigation, the author portrays events that changed the lives of the Italians, during the war. He reveals the madness of Hitler and Mussolini, exposing the fierceness of the military, the violence, destruction and cruelty of the times, but he never avoids pointing out that the Italians were complicit in their own destruction for they supported the axis powers, whom I can only refer to as maniacal megalomaniacs.
The war was perceived by all of the participants differently: the Partisans, the Italians, the Nazis, the Blackshirts, all had a different idea of what they were fighting for and how to go about it. Each had little choice in the path chosen. Some were forced by the Germans to obey, others by the Italians and still others by the Partisans or the pressure of peers who disagreed or agreed at great peril to their own lives. Disobedience probably meant an uncertain and very painful death, sometimes with cause and sometimes merely as an example to others to not betray those that were in charge. Morality, Ethics, right and wrong, simply did not appear to be a major part of the equation, rather it was the need to survive or protect the security of others.
As in so many of his other books, Bohjalian uses history as an underlying theme and illustrates the murderous behavior of despots during wartime. He shines a light on the forces of evil that force good people to sometimes compromise their souls to save themselves or their loved ones. Underlying the murder theme is also a romantic one; there are perhaps two or even three love stories, all of which have a devastating effect on the way that the narrative turns. As always, the author refrains from using gratuitous sex as a device, and instead, uses his skill to keep the reader guessing, wondering who the murderer was going to be, what were the “six degrees of separation” that connected the characters, and how would it all end. He simply keeps pointing in one direction or another, each one perhaps more plausible and each one a maneuver to misdirect you, oh so effectively! If you want a good mystery, look no further.

 
  "The Light in the Ruins" by peacejanz (see profile) 08/05/13

The Light in the Ruins – by Chris Bohjalian copyright 2013

This is a lovely mystery, well written and more than a story. The author describes the setting south of Florence so well that we get a travelogue with our mystery. Bohjalian gives us a story about World War II, about the Italian citizens, noble and not, about the Germans, loving and not, about people trying to survive and what they will do to survive when war comes to their homes. And then, years later, the awful punishment – murder – that is a result of their survival acts. Payback, if you will, but the reader does not know this until the very end.

The book moves back and forth between the war, 1943, and the Florence of 1955, with its first female detective. A delightful stylistic component is the killer\\\'s viewpoint. Why is he (or she) killing the people in the Rosati family who have survived the war? Haven\\\'t they gone through enough? There is a backstory with the female detective, Bettini. She has a history with this family that is being killed and she can not remember how she knows them (or is it that she knows OF them and really does not know then at all?). There are a couple of red herrings near the end but I did not mind them as I normally would because the book is so well written, so descriptive. I enjoyed it all the way to the awful end.

 
  "Powerfully Written Historical Fiction" by Shelfishness (see profile) 08/06/13

Chris Bohjalian is known for crafting stories that are historically accurate and emotionally touching. He also is known for exploring subjects which are often ignored in literature. The Light in the Ruins is the perfect example and is a compelling story that masterfully blends the tragedy of World War II Italy with a savage murder spree over a decade later. With moving characters, gripping voice, and unexpected twists, The Light in the Ruins is another Bohjalian treasure.

The novel alternates between the war years of 1943 & 1944, and the somewhat recovered Italy of 1955. Set in the Tuscan countryside, The Light in the Ruins focuses on the Rosati family: a marchese, his wife, and their three grown children, and the property which they call home (an expanse of land that has vineyards, stables, and an ancient burial site that harbors Etruscan artifacts). Cristina, the youngest, is eighteen at this time and while fascinated by the airplanes that pass over her countryside villa, has been fairly sheltered from the reality of the situation partly because of her privileged upbringing, and partly because of the family villa’s location from town. Her brother, Marco, has been called off as manual labor for the Germans in Sicily (despite his engineering background), and her other brother Vittore, an art historian, has been conscripted by the Germans in Florence, despite his outward contempt for them.

Flashing forward eleven years, a vicious killer has begun to take the lives of the remaining Rosati family members, brutally murdering them and taking out their hearts. Although we know little about the killer, their chilling narrative accounts from 1955 are enough to haunt readers who desperately want to get to the bottom of the mystery and spare the remaining members of a family that has seen more than its fair share of tragedy and heartbreak.

As the story unfolds in 1943, Cristina begins to fall in love with Lieutenant Friedrich Strekker, a one-legged war veteran who, in stark contrast to his German counterparts, is a kind and caring soul. Her family, especially Vittore, and Marco’s wife, Francesca, are disapproving because they understand what the Germans have done to Italy and its people, yet Cristina sees the good in Friedrich, and tries to make sense of the confusion surrounding their blossoming relationship. In the midst of the chaos and turmoil that surrounds the family’s villa, they must make important decisions about who to save and who to spare; what to do to protect themselves and what they must do to protect their country. Bohjalian does a wonderful job showing the dilemmas that arise during wartime and the challenges that everyone must face as a result.

Blending the murder mystery and the Rosati’s trials during war, The Light in the Ruins is a complex and powerful story. The emotional scars of the war are oftentimes more damaging than the physical wounds, as shown by Serafina, the young female detective assigned to the case who finds that her past intersects with the Rosati’s in a way that could not have been predicted.

This is a fabulous read that beautifully intertwines elements of historical fiction, romance, and suspense. In true Bohjalian style, the story and characters will stay with you long after you have completed the novel.

 
  "The Light in the Ruins" by kblinderman (see profile) 08/30/13

I love Chris Bohjalian\'s writing style. This book integrated two seemingly separate stories and made me curious about the impact of WWII on places like Italy.

 
  "Light in the Ruins" by ginnykin (see profile) 02/25/14

Great historical fiction!

 
  "" by KM (see profile) 06/16/16

 
  "" by jjpsj5 (see profile) 11/24/20

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