The Tuscan Contessa
Author: Dinah Jefferies
Publisher: 23rd July 2020 by Penguin Books (UK)
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, womens fiction, WWII
My Rating: 4 cups
Contessa Sofia de' Corsi's peaceful Tuscan home has been upturned by the arrival of German soldiers. Desperate to fight back, she provides shelter, medical aid and any help she can, keeping her efforts secret from husband Lorenzo – who is also passing information to the Allies.
When Maxine, an Italian-American working for the resistance, arrives on Sofia’s doorstep, the pair forge an uneasy alliance. Practical, no-nonsense Maxine promised herself never to fall in love. But when she meets a young partisan named Marco, she realizes it’s a promise she can’t keep.
Before long, the two women find themselves entangled in a dangerous game with the Nazis.
Will they be discovered? And will they both be able to save the ones they love?
I love Dinah Jefferies books as you are guaranteed to not only be transported back in time but to locations that literally jump off the page, allowing you to lose yourself in often faraway lands. On this occasion Dinah takes you to Tuscany, sadly not the warm and romantic version, but a Tuscany filled with sadness and desolation. This is the Tuscany of Nazi invasion in World War II and the women left behind who must be strong and courageous in their attempts to defy these invaders.
‘Could it really be about to end? She’d always tried to be a kind person, someone happy to fit in, and ready to help wherever she could. Despite living under the yoke of Mussolini, she’d had an easy life, privileged, and able to do pretty much whatever she wanted. Of course, it hadn’t been entirely painless.’
Set in 1943 The ‘Contessa’ is Sofia de’ Corsi, who lives in Costello de’ Corsi with her husband Lorenzo - a beautiful property contained within a medieval walled village that has been in the family for generations (you need to Google this - it looks incredible!) They are living in fear of a retreating German army, with Allies advancing and partisans trying to cause havoc. It is clearly evident the amount of research Dinah has undertaken for this tale with dates and events during this sad period in Italian history. Dinah does not shy away from writing about the ruthless cruelty of those dark days with scenes of death and destruction. However, she is sure to counterbalance this with courageous and heroic acts in the fight for good. The message here is one of hope and being there for loved ones in their time of need.
This leads onto what is perhaps the strongest aspect of this tale and that is the role of women. Dinah does a fabulous job in highlighting not only how they dealt with the day to day issues during the occupation but also the important roles and risks they took for their loved ones and their homes.
‘Sofia closed her eyes for a second and, when she opened them again, knew she was forever changed; she had instantly become a completely different person in a completely different world. This act of utter provocation incited such a feeling of rage and revulsion that it flooded her whole body.’
Personally, I found this was not as gripping as Dinah’s other novels as I did not find myself swept away by it. I agree with other reviewers that perhaps the focus may have been too strongly focused on the research. Where, in other reads, the narratives are the driving force, in this tale they seemed to play second fiddle to key dates and events. The characters were not as engaging as they had to fulfill certain functions in what was driving the story - the events of the Nazi occupation of Italy. Still, for history buffs, this is a good story.
Dinah writes beautifully with vivid descriptions and realistic portrayals of life at that time. She has the talent to transport her readers to another time and place, and on this occasion, to be a part of the friendship and bravery of the women of Tuscany.
‘No. I want to be myself.’ When asked to explain exactly what that self was, she’d floundered. What she really wanted, what she longed for, was an open life, one in which she could find out about herself and thrive, not simply survive as her mother had done.’
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.