1945 post war Italy. Furnivall transports us to the Southern city of Naples to follow the riveting story of Caterina Lombardi and the course of events which turned her life upside down. Historical fiction at its best, this book is a fine insight into the devastation and destruction felt by the Italians at the end of the second world war.
At the onset of the novel we are introduced to 10 year old Caterina Lombardi watching her parents having a fiery argument from the top of the stairs. The small child watches as her extraordinarily glamorous mother walks out of the house leaving her father, Antonio Lombardi the meagre woodworker, for another man and another life in Rome. She leaves behind Caterina proclaiming to Antonio “she never liked me anyway” and Caterina’s five month old brother Luca.
Fast forward ten years later when Caterina is 21 and the devastating effects of the war are in full effect on Naples. People are starving, eating their cats and dogs simply to survive, women selling themselves to the American soldiers, and children have lost their innocence and become dangerous street rats.
Caterina is making and selling music boxes on the streets of Naples to support her younger brother and blind grandfather. Her father is now dead – killed by a stray bomb which landed on his workshop just after the war. Her mother never to be heard from again. And whilst she’s working relentlessly to support her family, Caterina receives a knock on the door and a visit from an American soldier who turns her life upside down.
The novel is primarily based between the cities of Naples and Sorrento with beautiful picturesque descriptions of the Southern Italian cities. The story is captivating and the events begin to unfold straight away – leaving you instantly hooked.
However it is important to note that whilst the story is very captivating, it does at times feel like it could be teen fiction. The love story that unfolds between Caterina and the soldier is incredibly unrealistic and as a reader, I couldn’t feel the connection nor understand how she could change so quickly from the defensive young girl trying to retain her fathers honourable name, to the fearless woman putting herself in impeccable danger and falling in love with an American soldier.
The character of Drago Vincelli also lacked depth and as a reader again I felt slightly disappointed with my inability to understand why everyone feared this man so much. The back story behind him was too shallow and you don’t learn much about him until the very end (even then I wasn’t happy with the explanation).
Whilst the story was extremely well written and incredibly creative, there was room for further development of the characters to help us really fear the “bad guys” and really respect Caterina.. Reminiscent of Tatiana from the Bronze Horseman, I just couldn’t understand why she was making all these sacrifices and putting herself continually into needless danger.
Regardless of that, I would rate the book 4.2 / 5 and would in fact recommend it to people looking for a captivating and addictive read that will keep you wanting more.