Sparks fly between unlikely allies—an African American GI and an Italian girl stripped to her essence by suffering—in a World War II romance set in the harshly defended Tuscan mountains.
Eighteen-year-old Vittoria Guidi joins the Italian partisans after she has lost almost everyone—her mother shot by the Nazis; her father deported to Germany; her cousins likely massacred in a nearby village. With family and meaning torn away and her town ransacked by the retreating German army, she has, she thinks, nothing left to lose. But recently, in Lucca, she met Frank Chapel, an American soldier in the Buffaloes—a segregated troop in the U.S. Army—and a connection sprang to life between them. Frank, battle-hardened by the loss of compatriots, the sheer physical toll of routing the Germans, and the steady drip of racial prejudice, will fight his way to Vittoria’s community, and what began as a glance and a feeling will find the space to blossom. At its best, Campbell’s (Rise, 2015, etc.) impassioned, impressionistic prose infuses her lead characters’ feelings and circumstances with an intensity to match the merciless pressures of the era. Exploring a less familiar corner of the battlefield and the conflicting politics of place and time (Vittoria’s mother supported the fascists, as did many Italians; black soldiers were the subject of intense negative propaganda), she delivers striking immediacy. It’s at the periphery, with the secondary characters, that the novel seems weaker—the cartoon Blackshirt, all sneers and “pus-laden” acne; the token Jews; the gluttonous, meaty German general. Even college-boy Frank, smart and handsome, leans toward stereotype, but the love story, though familiar in form, becomes irresistible, especially in its late, poetic, heroic blaze of selflessness.
For fans of indomitable heroines and love in the time of conflict, here’s a stirring new addition to the genre.