Facist Italy through the eyes of a bourgeois Roman child largely oblivious to the horrors mounting around her.
To the young narrator, Rome in the 1930s is ruled not by Mussolini, but by her household’s cadre of domestic workers. The cook, Letizia, the maid, Italia, and the chauffer, Francesco, all figure prominently in the little girl’s daily routine, as do the nuns who run her kindergarten. But most important to the child is her luminous German governess, Anne Marie. Despite the fact that Anne Marie is often impatient or even inattentive, the child loves her passionately and unconditionally. As the little girl begins to navigate life independently, two incidents shock her and she becomes increasingly aware of the world’s harshness. First, she encounters and grows fascinated with a mysterious Jewish playmate living across the street. Though she never actually speaks to the Jewish girl, her disappearance from the neighborhood playground affects the narrator profoundly. And then, tragically, her beloved Anne Marie abandons her, leaving the household forever. In an effort to explore the child’s growing understanding of her surroundings, Loy (Hot Chocolate at Hanselmann’s, 2003, etc.) effectively uses stream-of-consciousness as a means of honing in on the oscillations and obsessions of a child’s mind. But these moments are interrupted by very lucid and too-mature thoughts, phrasing and language. The imbalance becomes a major obstacle to enjoying the book.
Loy’s approach is intriguing, but she never fully commits to a narrative voice.