Received from the publisher
From the BLURB:
The internationally bestselling author of WHITE GARDENIA returns with her greatest heroine yet. A mysterious stranger known as ′The Wolf′ leaves an infant with the sisters of Santo Spirito. A tiny silver key hidden in her wrappings is the one clue to the child′s identity ...
Rosa′s only family is the nuns who have raised her. When she turns fifteen, she must leave them and become governess to the daughter of an aristocrat and his strange, frightening wife. Their house is elegant but cursed, and Rosa - blessed with gifts beyond her considerable musical talents - is torn between her desire to know the truth and her fear of its repercussions.
And all the while, the hand of Fascism curls around beautiful Italy, and none of her citizens is safe. Rosa faces unimaginable hardship: her only weapons her intelligence, intuition and determination ...and her extraordinary capacity for love.
The book opens in 1914, Florence and a man abandoning a newborn babe to a convent. He leaves the child with only a key tied to her foot, and a warning to the nuns that if the child remains anonymous, she will be safe. The novel then skips ahead to 1929, when 15-year-old Rosa Belocchi is about to leave the church and the only home she has ever known to become governess in the Scarfiotti villa.
‘Tuscan Rose’ is a sprawling saga of epic-proportions. Belinda Alexandra shows readers the height of Mussolini fever as the narrative spans decades and depicts Italy’s Police State under ‘Il Duce’ and consequent involvement in WWII.
Rosa Belocchi narrates throughout – first her tenure as governess to the Scarfiotti family, then her imprisonment as ‘enemy of the state’ that portrays the world of female political prisoners at the height of fascism. Rosa narrates through her marriage to a good, Jewish man during the ‘Pact of Steel’ between Germany and Italy and the vicious anti-Semitism that followed into invasion and war.
Antonio reached out and touched her wrist. The guard didn’t stop him. “You know, once war breaks out there are no decent men and no morals any more,” he said. “If people start thinking that way they will be defeated. What all the decent people need to do before war even breaks out is say ‘No!’ That is the time to be decent. That’s the only time it will do any good. But that’s not what we Italians did. We either cheered Mussolini on for our material gain or tried to ignore him. Now we pay the price.”
Rosa is a fierce narrator and a mass of contradictions. At times she comes across as frustratingly naïve, but with a backbone of steel - she loses her innocence but retains her moral compass. Ultimately though, Rosa is a heroine to inspire. She is imprisoned, beaten, humiliated and degraded – but never defeated.
Belinda Alexandra masterfully recreates Italy’s turbulent times through the eyes of a narrator who is ultimately one of histories victims. Rosa Belocchi is most certainly a victim of circumstance, as her fascinating tale unfolds and Alexandra depicts the consequences of history on those who were too small to impact it.
‘Tuscan Rose’ is a rambling historical chronicle, but there is also a touch of fable and fantasy to Alexandra’s story. Rosa’s abandonment when she was a baby is shrouded in mystery and adds to the mythological life of Ms. Belocchi. A man the nuns dubbed ‘The Wolf’ left Rosa in their tender care. And during her time at the Scarfiotti villa, Rosa hears rumors of witchcraft and believes her mistress to be a practitioner of the black arts…
Rosa is also a ‘handler’ – she can touch an object and see its origin;
The salami slices swelled and took on the form of a sow lying on her side with piglets sucking at her teats and wiggling their curly tails. Something began to tickle and scratch Rosa’s throat. She gagged and turned away, spitting the mouthful of food she had been chewing into her table napkin. She gasped when she looked at it and saw a fluffy yellow chick cheeping at her before gradually fading away.
This touch of fantasy permeates the story and ignites Alexandra’s writing to add a touch of whimsy to bleak history.
I did enjoy this book. It’s a big read, 563 pages – but the history is rich and devastating, the romance is tragic but poignant and the entire book feels sweeping and grand-scale. I had a few small complaints, like wishing Rosa had stayed longer on the Scarfiotti villa, if only to learn more about her mysterious employers… but ultimately I was happy to be swept away on Rosa’s journey.