Vivid and freshly cast family drama that draws on the experience of civilians who came to the aid of Italy’s Jews during the Nazi occupation.
Though other points of view enter the narrative, it’s spry, chain-smoking, never-married Signora Chiara Ravello—reliably sturdy, inwardly doubting—who holds close the cards a reader most cares about. In October 1943, while preparing to evacuate Rome with her mentally impaired sister, Chiara saved a Jewish boy (with his mother’s collusion) from almost certain death under the very noses of German police who were rounding up his family for deportation. Flash-forward to the 1950s, when Daniele, the boy she rechristened and raised as her own kin, enters rebellious puberty and stumbles on Chiara’s other secret—a terrible one. Before she can form an acceptable explanation, he's gone from her life. As the narrative zigzags between past, near-past, and present, we're introduced to a colorful legion of minor characters, only two of whom have an inkling of Chiara’s involvement with anti-fascist partisans, her wrenching wartime sacrifice, or the reason for Daniele’s disappearance: Father Antonio, Chiara's old friend and colleague at the pontifical library where she works as a translator; and charismatic, intellectual Simone, her dead father’s former mistress. Enter Maria, a British teenager who claims to be Daniele’s child and has found Chiara's phone number on a letter. When the girl begs to spend the summer as the signora's lodger in Rome to improve her Italian, 60-something Chiara recognizes a possible path of reprieve from actions weighing on her soul: above all, she wants her life “not to be one where his name is never spoken…and this girl will be the key.”
At a moment when families around the globe are being upturned by organized aggression and civil war, Baily offers a poignant, not-too-sappy fable about surviving war’s cruelties and crushing losses and the near-miraculous feats of bonding humans are sometimes capable of.