Review: THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS by Chris Bohjalian

I had been reading about Chris Bohjalian’s THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS all over the blogosphere, so I was more than thrilled to score a copy through Net Galley. This is a touching and beautifully written novel that leaves the reader thinking about the characters long after it is over.

THE LIGHT IN THE RUINS takes place in Italy and moves between 1943 and 1955. During WWII, the Rosati family live quietly in their villa. They are a remnant of Italy’s nobleman past and are faring better than the peasants in the area. Caught in the crossfires of the war, they must support and welcome Nazi soldiers into their home; at the same time they must aid and assist partisans in their area. The war is turning and the Germans are getting desperate, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t do their utmost to destroy all they can in their path. The marchese and marchesa are a middle-aged couple. One son is away at war and his wife and two young children are living in the villa with them. Their second son is working as an archeologist. Their eighteen year old daughter Christina lives at the villa, too. Soon she finds herself falling in love for the first time – with a Nazi officer. At the same time, partisans are living in the hills and using the property, including ancient Etruscan tombs, as hideouts. The events converge into a riveting and tragic ultimatum.

Meanwhile, ten years later in 1955, a murder occurs in Rome. It soon becomes apparent that someone is stalking the surviving members of the Rosati family and killing them. Of the police detectives assigned to the case, one is the tough and intrepid Serafina – the first female police officer in her department and a surviving partisan from WWII. Serafina is horribly scarred from the war, in more ways than one. Her involvement with the Rosati case opens up old wounds and memories.

The story is written as switching between 1943/44 and 1955. As it progresses, we hear the full story of WWII for the family, and its tragic events. We follow the events of the murders and try to figure out the murderer. I could not put this book down!

I just loved this book. I found it so well-written and it evoked such strong images of the Tuscan countryside, along with such emotion. The word that comes to mind is heart-breaking. I couldn’t stop thinking about the story and its characters afterwards.

I also loved the choice of title. The “light in the ruins” can be the light in the Etruscan tombs where they hid, or the light that shined through in the aftermath of the devastation of WWII. Or it can be that small light that shined within those who were most damaged by the events of the war.

Brilliant! Buy it! Borrow it! But whatever you do – read it!

Thanks to Doubleday Books and Net Galley for my copy!

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