This “Italian /American Gone With the Wind” is an epic drama of romantic, filial and patriotic love played out over two centuries in two equally troubled nations.
Two of the book’s main characters, Michael di Martini and Susan Lowell, come of age during periods of war: the Italian revolutions of the 1840s and the American Civil War, respectively. Woven into their narratives is the present-day story of Ann di Martini, a descendant of both the di Martini and Lowell families, though it’s unclear exactly how. All three characters are, in various ways, performers, artists, soldiers and caretakers, and McFadden (Where’s Sylvia, 2011) is at her best when the short chapters and quick changes of time and place provide intriguing parallels among those roles. Michael, Susan and Ann also suffer tragic losses, shocking disloyalties, reversals of fortune and crises of faith, and here the author deals in melodrama, sometimes successfully—e.g., with Michael’s encounter with a firing squad—and sometimes less so, as with Ann’s reactions to her daughter’s misadventures. Despite the occasional misfire, however, McFadden is an enjoyable storyteller, and it’s a testament to her skills that reader interest in multiple storylines is sustained over nearly 600 pages. Her descriptions, too, can be evocative; for instance, the di Martini palazzo, the alpha and omega of the story, becomes a knowable place in addition to its clear role as a symbol of home and heritage. Near the end of the novel, a story-within-a-story theme develops, suggesting that the book might be the first in a planned trilogy that will track the Lowell/di Martini stories into the 20th century, continuing to unfurl the story of Ann’s parentage while tracking the fate of the palazzo.
Big, brash and full of passion and warmth.