Reflecting on World War I and the rise of fascism, this debut novel set in Italy envisions spirituality as a way of rising above the vicissitudes of history.
Emmy Award–winning sportscaster Physioc cites as his inspirations A Course in Miracles and a trip to the walled city of Lucca in 2005. His hero is Isabella Roselli, a convent-raised orphan who loves vegetable gardening and sells her produce at nearby markets. The summer of 1914 sees brothers Benny and Franco Carollo arguing about joining the war effort. Franco leaves Puglia for Rome to work in a munitions factory and witnesses a speech by Benito Mussolini, who at that time was a socialist wanting to stay out of the European fight. Although Franco is of the same mind, he still ends up by his brother’s side at the Isonzo Front after Italy declares war in 1915. Vivid scenes set in the trenches alternate with glimpses of Isabella’s life as a helper to Susanna Martellino, the wife of a local winemaker. When Franco returns from war, he starts working for Susanna’s husband, Giovanni, and swiftly becomes the vineyard manager, saving the vines from flooding with his quick thinking. He and Isabella marry in 1920 and start a family, but the rise of fascism—as embodied in Alfredo Obizzi, Susanna’s villainous lover—threatens the vineyard’s success and their future happiness. Lively dialogue and an authentic atmosphere keep the rapid sequence of historical events from becoming too overwhelming. Luckily, Physioc never grows heavy-handed in his presentation of the rift between fascism and socialism, and the metaphor of the city walls is convincingly applied to both ideological and class barriers. The story feels meaningful for our time of suspicion and division: “It was a time in Italy during which an accusation held almost as much power as the truth.” Isabella’s dogma-free spirituality—she values only love and forgiveness and believes in the divine spark in every person—is appealing and adds an extra dimension beyond the historical. A sequel (in progress) will pick up the story eight years later, in 1938.
An absorbing, well-researched saga.