The Light in the Ruinsby Chris Bohjalian
1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them/b>/i>/i>/i>
From the New York Times best-selling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge—set in war-ravaged Tuscany.
1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once was their sanctuary becomes their prison.
1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.
One of Barnes & Noble's “Best Books of July.”
One of Oprah Magazine's “Ten Titles to Pick Up Right Now.”
"A mystery that reminds us of the harrowing choices World War II forced on so many. Beautifully structured, written with restrained intensity and suspenseful to the end, this is both a satisfying mystery and a gut-wrenching account of moral dilemma in a time of moral struggle."
—People, 4 Stars
"The Light in the Ruins, Chris Bohjalian’s brilliantly crafted historical novel . . . switches back and forth from the mid-1940s, while the war is raging, to the mid-’50s . . . The alternating time frame keeps the reader suspicious of everyone, but whether likable or loathsome, Bohjalian’s characters are utterly compelling . . . The book’s payoff is greater than figuring out whodunit. Bohjalian repeatedly confronts us with the moral dilemmas of wartime . . . In this novel, Bohjalian contemplates painful choices while offering a tour-de-force murder mystery, heartbreaking romance and a dazzling denouement that will tear your heart out.”
—Eugenia Zukerman, The Washington Post
"An intriguing tale of Bohjalian complexity . . . The Light in the Ruins is plotted with an elegance worthy of an Etruscan. It pivots between creation and destruction, the past and the present, and the uneasy chimerical points where they collide."
—Ellen Kanner, The Miami Herald
"Addictive, fast-paced, and often frankly terrifying . . . Bohjalian has created an entertaining, thought-provoking, and disturbingly contemporary fictional world in which compassion and outrage are two sides of the same coin . . . Fling open the shutters. Settle in a comfortable chair. Lock the doors, Then turn to the first page of The Light in the Ruins and let the shadows in."
—Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"With each book, Bohjalian flexes his literary muscles, crafting a ghost story, historical fiction, and now police procedural. . . . [Bohjalian] is skilled at evoking the sepia-tinged past."
“Dead solid perfect. Bohjalian has written another winner.”
—Curt Schleier, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"A spellbinding mix of history and mystery."
“At the heart of a good novel is a good story, and this story is a doozy. Bohjalian expertly weaves together a tale of how the war split Italy between the people who willingly collaborated with the Germans and the ones who did not. . . . Not every author could manage to tell a war story, throw in a serial killer and drop in several interesting romances, but Bohjalian manages.”
—Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Haunting . . . heartbreaking . . . elegiac.”
—Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
“Historic fiction at its very finest . . . This novel moves with the heat and inexorable flow of lava. Not to be missed.”
—Edmund August, The Louisville Courier-Journal
“A brilliant blend of historical fiction and a chilling serial killer story . . . a page-turner that the reader will not soon forget.”
—Deborah Donovan, BookPage
“Bohjalian subtly and skillfully manipulates our suspicions . . . trusting his readers to foment their own speculations . . . Well-researched, historically interesting.”
—Julie Wittes Schlack, The Boston Globe
“Masterfully crafted . . . a near-perfect blend of historical fiction, mystery, and suspense.”
—Brighid Moret, The Washington Times
“A masterpiece . . . a terrific read that will transport both long-time fans and newcomers back in time to one of the most turbulent periods in Italian history.”
—Ray Palen, BookReporter
"Bohjalian effectively blends the symbolism into the story to make readers feel tension, fear and disgust. The novel also gives readers a look at the murderous atmosphere of fascist Italy, a warped circumstance that reverberated years after the war ended." —David Hendricks, The San Antonio Express-News
“The Rosatis’ Etruscan burial site, effectively ravaged and exploited by the Germans for its potentially priceless artifacts, becomes the metaphor for the excruciating violations unfolding across the entire continent. Similarly, Bohjalian raises questions about the nature of injustice and the, often, arbitrary codes we deploy in order to keep a firm grasp on right and wrong, good and evil, or hero and villain. The Light in the Ruins offers an engaging story that unspools in such a way as to keep the reader with her nose to the pages long after the light has actually faded.”
—Sheila Moeschen, New York Journal of Books
“A taut, suspenseful page-turner . . . Bohjalian effortlessly turns a work of historical fiction into a breathless whodunit.”
—Wendy Plotkin, The Armenian Weekly
“The Light in the Ruins elucidates, haunts and raises moral quandaries . . . . Bohjalian’s historical re-telling is riveting . . . . A memorable read.”
—Claudia Puig, USA Today
"Chilling . . . A gifted storyteller, Bohjalian provides his readers with yet another engaging book—a murder mystery that keeps you guessing right up to the end."
"Thoroughly gripping, beautiful, and astonishingly vengeful, this novel is a heartbreaker. Bohjalian's latest turn to historical fiction is immensely rewarding."
—Julie Kane, Library Journal (starred review)
“Hypnotic and harrowing, a mesmerizing read . . . Run—don't walk—to the bookstore for this gem.”
—Nicholas Addison Thomas, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
"Mastering matters subtle and grotesque, Bohjalian combines intricate plotting and bewitching sensuality with historical insight and a profound sense of place to create an exceptional work of suspense rooted in the tragic aberrations of war."
—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Incredible. . .Bohjalian's best yet.”
—Diane LaRue, Auburn Citizen
"A literary thriller . . . a soulful why-done-it."
"An exploration of post-WWII Italy doubles as a murder mystery in this well-crafted novel . . . an entertaining historical whodunit."
"A must-read . . . stunning . . . Bohjalian specializes in the suspense created when people are cut off, physically and emotionally, from society (as he did in his best-selling Midwives). Here he goes back in time to create that suspense, with a compelling female detective running from demons of her own as his heroine."
—Mary Duan, Tucson Weekly
"The Light in the Ruins is a riveting re-creation of a time and place long gone, but not forgotten."
—Valerie Ryan, Shelf Awareness
"One of the fifteen best books of summer . . . A picturesque page turner."
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.68(w) x 9.42(h) x 1.25(d)
Read an Excerpt
A woman is sitting before an art nouveau vanity, brushing her hair in the mirror. It is, at least according to the police report, somewhere between midnight and three in the morning, on the first Tuesday of June 1955. For dinner she ate a small portion of an impossibly rich pasta—a fettuccini with pecorino cheese and great ladles of truffle oil—at a restaurant popular with wealthy American and British expatriates five blocks west of the Uffizi and a block north of the Arno. She was one of the few Italians there who wasn’t part of the kitchen or wait staff. She has since bathed, soaping off both her own perfume and the cologne that was worn by her dinner companion—the fellow who had come back here to the apartment, made love with her on the thin bed no more than three feet from the vanity, and then left. He was a suspect in the murder investigation, but only briefly. If he had had even the slightest inclination to spend the evening, there is every chance that I would have executed him that night, too.
At the moment she is wearing her nightgown (which is not especially revealing), though at some point very soon it will be cut off her. Yes, cut. Not even pulled over her head. Sliced from the opening at her collarbone down to the hem, which, when she stands, is mid-shin. By then, of course, she will be dead. Bleeding out. I will have sliced open her neck from one side of her jaw to the other.
Just so you know, that art nouveau vanity is not particularly valuable. The white paint is chipped, and two of the whiplike finials along the right side broke off years ago. Before the war. Moreover, her nightgown is cotton, and the material has started to pill. I mention this so you are not envisioning this room as more glamorous than it is. The woman is still beautiful, even now in middle age and despite the horrific, seemingly unbearable losses she endured a decade ago, in the last year of the war. These days she lives in a neighborhood of Florence that is solidly working- class, a section the tourists visit only when they are impressively, almost hopelessly lost. A decade ago, she would not have known a neighborhood like this even existed.
The apartment has neither a doorman nor a primitive intercom connecting the wrought iron and frosted glass street door with her modest unit. It is locked, but not all that difficult to open. (Really, it wasn’t.) According to the police report, at some point in that roughly three-hour window in the early hours of that first Tuesday in June, I used a blunt object (the handle of my knife, as a matter of fact) to break a pane of the glass near the doorknob. Then I reached in, turned the lock, and opened the door. Remember, this is an unassuming little building. Then I moved silently up the stairway to the third fl oor, where she lived, and knocked on her door. She rose from the vanity, her brush still in her hand, and paused for a moment on her side of the wood.
“Yes?” she asked. “Who is it?”
And here I lied. I said I was her dinner companion, speaking into my gloved hand to muffle my voice.
So she opened the door and would be dead within moments.
And why did I slice open her nightgown? I didn’t violate her. It was so I could cut out her heart. A woman with the lilting name of Francesca Rosati, who had once been a Tuscan marchese’s daughter-in-law, was my first.
But, as you will see, not my last.
The planes flew in great flocks that May over the Crete Senesi, the lunarlike landscape that marked the Tuscan countryside southeast of Siena. By night the planes were British or American bombers and their destination was Bologna. By day they were German, long streams of Junkers, and their destination was either Sicily or Naples. After that they would attempt to reach Tunisia and reinforce the Axis troops there, but most—and Cristina Rosati knew this from the BBC, not from her own country’s newspapers—would be shot down and crash into the Mediterranean Sea. The Italians and Germans in North Africa were finished, and there was absolutely no chance of evacuating them; the army might as well have been on the moon. Sometimes Cristina wished that her brothers were in Tunisia so they might be captured by the Allies and sent to England, where they could await the end of the war in the safety of a prisoner-of-war camp. Instead, Marco was in Sicily, preparing the beaches there for the anticipated Allied invasion. He was an engineer. Vittore, an archeologist, was safe in Florence, but there was bombastic talk on the radio and in the newspapers about the need for total war, and no one in her family would have been surprised if he were suddenly given a rifl e and sent off to Sardinia or Greece or some battery along the coast. Both of her brothers were older than she was; barely eighteen, Cristina was the baby of the three Rosati children.
For a long moment she stood outside on the villa’s southern terrace and watched the planes, the dark fuselage of each aircraft gleaming in the sun. She was holding four cloth dolls that belonged to her young niece, as well as the scraps of red and gold napkins from which she was crafting Renaissance dresses for the two princesses and tunics for the two men—neither of whom, according to the little girl, was a prince. Cristina had been playing with the child on the terrace when the girl’s mother had informed them that it was nap time and herded the child and her brother—who at that moment had been running like a madman along the edge of the swimming pool, using a thin beech branch as a saber—upstairs to the nursery.
And so Cristina was alone when the planes droned southward, high above the Villa Chimera. She was fascinated by them, held almost spellbound. Someday, when the world once again was at peace, she would fly somewhere in an airplane. To Pisa, maybe. Or Naples. Or perhaps all the way to Paris. She couldn’t imagine anything more glamorous.
Now a pair of small lizards raced past her, faster than snakes, darting just beyond her toes into the lilacs that grew along the edge of the loggia. Nearby she heard the bells on the sheep and, farther away, the low thrum of a distant tractor. She thought she heard one of the estate’s horses whinny. Arabella, most likely.
Finally, when the planes had disappeared far to the south, she ventured inside. Her sister- in- law appeared almost at the same moment, tiptoeing down the stairs so she wouldn’t disturb her children. She was shaking her head.
“The planes are starting to scare Massimo,” Francesca said. Massimo was seven, old enough to understand the connection between the planes and the dangers his father might soon face in Sicily. He’d overheard the conversations of the more injudicious grown- ups about where the Allies would strike when they had finished with Africa. And then there was all the talk of the bombing in Genoa and Turin, and the possibility that their family might take in urban children whose homes had been destroyed by the Allied air attacks.
“And Alessia?” Cristina asked. Her niece was five and utterly fearless.
Francesca shrugged and poured herself a glass of iced tea. “Oblivious. The world is a game to that child. Fortunately.” Then she sat down and stretched out her long legs before her. She, too, was barefoot, but somewhere she had found a bottle of polish and painted her toenails red. She was wearing one of the elegant floral skirts she had purchased when they had been in Florence just before Christmas. It was inappropriate here in the country in the middle of the afternoon, but it swayed like a ballerina’s when she moved, and Francesca wasn’t made for a world of scarcity or sacrifice. She was nine years older than Cristina, twenty-seven now, and had always seemed to her younger sister-in-law to embody the chic that Cristina had glimpsed in her visits to Rome or Milan or, more frequently, Florence. Francesca dyed her hair the color of honey and clearly had no intention of allowing herself to grow round while her husband was in Sicily and she was here alone with the children.
“I hate airplanes,” she added after a moment. “No good has come from an airplane. Ever. You realize that, don’t you?”
Cristina smiled. Francesca was fond of great, sweeping pronouncements. “You know that’s not true.”
“I know nothing of the sort,” she said. “I saw you from the window. You were watching the planes. Someday you’ll be looking up and they’ll be bombing you. Us. The estate. You watch. Someday the bombs will be falling on our heads.”
Outside, they heard a car winding its way up the gravel road that led to the villa, and Cristina wandered to the dining room window. The automobile was a long, black army staff car. No doubt people had been talking as the vehicle had wound its way through the narrow streets of the village, past the hulking medieval granary, and then up the hill to the estate. She watched as the young driver, a private, hopped out and opened the rear door for the two officers, one German and one Italian. She didn’t recognize either of them and felt a pang of anxiety. They couldn’t possibly be bringing good news, she thought, but nevertheless she tried to reassure herself. The closest her brother Vittore ever came to danger were his arguments with the Germans when they wanted to steal some treasure in Arezzo or Florence and take it to Germany—and those disputes, he insisted, were civilized. The Germans would ask and he would say no. They would grow more adamant and he would explain why the painting or statue or vase could not be moved. And then they would either ignore him completely and loot the artifact anyway or—for reasons that were inexplicable to Vittore but he guessed had everything to do with whether the Germans had already promised the piece of art to a spouse or mistress or a more senior officer—back down and choose a less valuable item from the collection.
But if they were not here about Vittore, did that mean that something horrific had happened to Marco? She tried to convince herself that this wasn’t likely either. Francesca’s husband was in Sicily, and there was no fighting there. Still, he was a soldier—a captain—as well as an engineer, and the idea that he might be wounded or dead caused her to feel a wave of nausea, and she placed her palms fl at on the stucco windowsill for balance. She told herself that she was overreacting; this had to be something else. Why would the army dispatch two officers to inform the family that an engineer was dead on a Sicilian beach or an archeologist had died at his post in a . . . a museum? Didn’t they send telegrams?
She felt Francesca breathing behind her. “Do you know them?” Cristina asked her sister-in-law.
Francesca shook her head. “Why would I know some thug and his sorry little sidekick?”
The driver was standing beside his vehicle, but the officers were approaching the villa. The German outranked the Italian but looked a decade younger: midthirties, Cristina guessed. Maybe thirty- five. The Italian had his dark hair pomaded almost flat on his head and a thin mustache he had waxed into a pair of curls. His cheekbones were sharp; he was a handsome man. The German was two or three inches taller, his hair the washed- out color of the wheat fields in August. He was carrying a sidearm; the Italian was not.
“They’re going to want something, you know,” her sister-in-law added. “The barbarians are here to commandeer something. One of the cars, maybe. Or a truck. Maybe they’re after the sheep.”
“I hope that’s all it is,” Cristina murmured.
With one hand Francesca briefly rubbed her sister-in-law’s back and shoulders and reassured her: “You don’t need to worry about the boys. I am sure this is another annoyance. Not a new tragedy.”
The front door was open to catch whatever breezes might come in from the west, but the officers hovered in the entryway, their caps in their hands. Francesca beckoned them into the foyer, a wide and airy room itself, with a long fl at window and shelves of Etruscan vases, amphoras, and kraters—some replicas and some original, but so common that the museums hadn’t a use for them. “My children are sleeping, so you’ll have to speak softly,” Francesca said, her way of greeting the two men.
The Italian nodded. “I am Major Lorenzetti. This is Colonel Decher.” He glanced into the kitchen and the dining room and continued, “Your home is as lovely as I’d heard. I presume you two are the marchese’s daughters.”
“I am the marchese’s daughter-in-law,” Francesca corrected him, emphasizing her father-in-law’s title in a fashion that conveyed how absurd she thought it was. Francesca believed that the very notion of dukes and princes and counts in the middle part of the twentieth century was ridiculous. She found it a source of unending wonder that her people were ruled by a dictator and a puppet king and her father- in- law owned a small fiefdom. Cristina knew that Francesca was fundamentally apolitical, but when pressed to claim an affiliation with any political structure or school of thought, the woman would express a vague predisposition toward the Hollywood star system in America, because studio heads and movie stars dressed well, made art, and left her alone. “This,” she continued now, motioning toward Cristina, “is the marchese’s only daughter. My father-in-law has two boys and this one lovely girl.”
The Italian major bowed just the tiniest bit. “Of course. I spoke without thinking. You must be Francesca,” he said. “And you must be Cristina. Is the marchese home?”
“He and his wife, the marchesa”—and here Francesca again briefly paused—“are down in the olive grove with the overseer.”
“They’ll be back soon?”
“Then we can wait.”
“If you wait quietly. Remember, my children just started to nap.”
The Italian nodded, but the German shook his head and scowled. Cristina worried that her sister-in-law’s insolence had gone far enough and jumped in. “Please, let’s wait for my father on the veranda,” she said. “It’s shady there and you’ll be more comfortable. I can bring you some iced tea.”
It was clear, however, that she had already waited too long to try to mollify their guests. In an Italian that was heavily accented with German, Colonel Decher snapped, “We don’t have time to wait, we’re due back in Florence. I don’t see why you can’t show us what we need to see as well as your father could. I understand there was a dig on your property in 1938. That’s why we’re here. We want to see the necropolis, and given our time constraints, we want to see it now.”
Cristina almost laughed. She had been shivering slightly, and now her whole body relaxed. This visit had nothing to do with either of her brothers. It had nothing to do with the needs of their armies’ quartermasters. This pair wanted nothing, it seemed, but to see the underground tombs on the far side of the vineyard. The family had come across the burial site when they had expanded the vineyard in 1937 and broken ground for a new shed that would accommodate a larger press and additional barrels. The builders had understood quickly that they had unearthed, literally, a small Etruscan tomb. The first vestiges they discovered? Three columns. Two were mere stumps, but one still towered seven feet high when they cleared away the cedars and the brush and the soil. Then they found a pair of funerary urns. At that point the family moved their plans for the new shed to the other side of the vineyard, and a few months after that the archeologists and historians arrived for the dig. The younger of Cristina’s two older brothers, Vittore, had joined the group and found his calling.
“Yes, I can show it to you,” Cristina said. “But I hope you won’t be disappointed. It’s not really a necropolis. That would imply it’s much, much bigger than it is. And there’s not a lot there now.
The artifacts that had value—the urns and the sarcophagi and the larger vases—all went to the museum in Arezzo.”
“Which means they’re probably in Berlin by now,” Francesca murmured, but she was staring out the window as she spoke and so Cristina did not believe that Decher had heard her.
“Fine,” the colonel said. “Show us whatever remains. Do we drive or walk?”
“We can walk,” Cristina told him. Then she said to her sister-in-law, “I’ll get some candles and take the gentlemen there. That way, you can stay with the children. If Father returns, I’m sure he’ll want to join us.” She glanced out toward the automobile, where the young driver was studying a map. For the first time she really looked at the private. He was German and might have been as young as she was. “Would your driver like to wait inside while we’re gone?” she asked Lorenzetti, but before he could respond, Decher said, “He’ll remain at his post.” And then the colonel pivoted smartly on his heels and started outside. Lorenzetti rolled his eyes and shrugged, a small apology of sorts, and motioned for Cristina to go first, as if they were entering a ballroom for a dance. Behind them, Cristina heard her sister-in-law snort.
They passed the statues beside the loggia and in the garden, Venus and the chimera, and then continued out toward the fields. The air was dry and the grass felt like twine as it brushed over Cristina’s toes, and she found herself gazing at the high black boots that the two officers were wearing. She had slipped into her sandals before they had left the villa, because eventually they would have to cross a thin path carved into rock to reach the tombs. The path was no more than sixty meters long—two millennia earlier, it had been far more extensive—but there were sharp points on the tufa stone and it wasn’t smart to walk there in bare feet. Still, Cristina could not imagine wearing high leather riding boots in the heat of the afternoon the way soldiers were expected to. She had a pair a bit like them, but this time of year she wore them only at the very beginning or the very end of the day, when she was placing a saddle on her beloved Arabella and going for a ride.
Overhead they heard birds. They smelled jasmine and oleander. Neither Decher nor Lorenzetti said a word as they walked, and she stifled her own need to speak, including her interest in why they wanted to see her estate’s underground ruins. They passed the long rows of Sangiovese grape arbors and then descended a steep slope, and Cristina cut ahead of them because the brush was growing thicker and higher and they were approaching a path they would have to navigate single-file. In a moment they would reach the Y. If they turned right, they would continue through a copse of cedar and beech and reach the small Rosati family cemetery, including the modest Roman temple her grandfather had built. If they veered left, it would feel to them as if they were sinking into the earth: the path would narrow as the ground around them rose up to their hips, then shoulders, then heads. The walls would turn from sod to stone, and it would seem as if they were walking inside a crag in a cliff. The sky would be reduced to a thin swath of blue, broken in parts by the branches of the trees that grew above them along the sides of this ancient channel. The stretch reminded her of the photos she had seen of the trenches from the earlier world war, minus the wooden planks on which the soldiers stood. And at the end they would reach the Etruscan tomb.
Finally Lorenzetti broke the silence. “Have you heard from Marco lately?”
She turned back to the major, surprised. “I didn’t know you knew my brother.”
“I don’t. Well, I don’t know Marco. I know Vittore.”
“From Florence, of course. Sometimes we work together.”
She considered this, aware that Francesca would probably have interrogated the pair if she had been present and Lorenzetti had just announced that he knew Vittore. “Why didn’t you tell us this back at the villa?”
“I started to. But your sister-in-law didn’t seem especially pleased by our visit.”
“More the reason you should have.”
He shrugged. “Neither Colonel Decher nor I have any need to curry her favor.”
“Does Vittore know you’re here?”
“Are you an archeologist? An art historian?”
“The latter,” said Lorenzetti. “I could bore you to death with what I know about Donatello and bas-relief. These days I am merely a soldier—or, to be precise, the host for Colonel Decher. The colonel has joined us from Paris. He’s come to the Uffizi because apparently there has been some discussion that select artistic treasures may have to be moved to Germany for safeguarding until the end of the war. Lately there seems to be a particular interest in Etruscan artifacts.”
She understood that safeguarding was a euphemism for theft. According to Vittore, the Germans were much more likely to commandeer art from the museums and cathedrals in the occupied lands than they were from their ally here in the Mediterranean, but as it grew apparent that Italy would be invaded, the German presence, measured in both curators and tanks, was growing.
“Of course, I know very little about the Etruscans,” Lorenzetti added. “I find their bucchero aesthetically interesting but understand next to nothing about the firing process—how some of their pottery wound up that remarkable black. But ask me about the old sacristy in San Lorenzo? My lectures could have you sleeping like a baby in minutes.”
She turned to Decher. “Is your specialty Etruscan art?”
He dipped his chin and for the first time offered the tiniest hint of a smile. “Before the war I was an architect. Now I’m a soldier. All I know about the Etruscans comes from a single book I read in my quarters the other night.”
“Well, they were a great mystery as a people. Vittore finds it intriguing how little we know about them.” Then: “And you both work with Vittore at the museum? He’s never mentioned you.”
“I’ve known him since February,” said Lorenzetti. “But the colonel has known him barely a week. He and his adjutant just arrived. We all happen to be billeted at the same hotel and are all, to varying degrees, a part of the same little museum . . . team.”
“What do you do, Major Lorenzetti?”
“Just like your brother,” the Italian officer said, his voice delighting in the irony, “I oversee and preserve our nation’s rich artistic heritage.”
For a long moment, Cristina watched as the two officers stared at the arched doorways cut into the stone. The German paused to decapitate a couple of mushrooms with the tip of his boot. She had taken guests here before—family friends, her father’s business associates—and she had been present when Vittore had led his fellow students on tours. Initially everyone was unimpressed.
The thin path opened upon a small cul-de-sac, the earthen and rock walls composing it little more than three meters high. Field grass grew along the roof of the tombs, and the roots and longer strands dangled over the archways like bangs. Altogether, two rectangular windows had been unearthed, and four arched doorways. And then there were the remains of the columns: one seven feet high, and a pair that barely would reach the knees of a grown man. Once the columns had helped to support a great sloping roof that in all likelihood had spanned the cul-de-sac. Now the roof was gone and weeds climbed up between the stones. The artwork and ornamentation that long ago had graced this section had faded into nothingness over time, and it looked primitive—the home of cavemen, Cristina thought.
It was only when visitors ducked their heads and wandered underneath the archways, extending before them their flashlights or candles or lanterns, that they began to understand the magnificence of what had once been here. There were six tombs, the chambers cut deep into the hillside. Inside, the artwork was better protected from centuries of erosion and wasting and sun. Paintings of musicians and dancers, invariably in profile, ran along the walls and low ceilings, as did drawings of fruit trees and birds and, in a corner of one tomb, a young fisherman. From one entrance a visitor could walk smack into the short row of pedestals with saucerlike tops on which urns the size of thigh-high rosemary shrubs had once rested. From another entrance a person might discover the tomb with the long platforms on which the Rosatis had found the sarcophagi, two of them, both beautifully preserved, one with a sculpture of a young man atop the lid and the other with a man and a woman—a husband and a wife. And though the urns and the sarcophagi and the funeral artifacts had been exhumed and sent to the museum in Arezzo, the musicians and the dancers and the birds remained on the walls.
Cristina handed a candle to each of the officers and kept one for herself. She started to fumble with the matches, but the Italian major had a cigarette lighter and lit all three of the tapers in an instant. Then together they stooped and she led them through the middle archway, into the first of the rooms with the low ceilings where two and a half millennia earlier perhaps her very own ancestors had been laid to rest.
Meet the Author
Chris Bohjalian is the critically acclaimed author of sixteen books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Sandcastle Girls, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, and Midwives. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah's Book Club. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter. Visit him at www.chrisbohjalian.com or on Facebook.
- Lincoln, Vermont
- Date of Birth:
- August 12, 1961
- Place of Birth:
- White Plains, New York
- Amherst College
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I've read some WWII books set in Germany (City of Women, The Life of Objects), France (Suite Francaise) and England (The Guernsey Potato Peel & Literary Society and Phillip Rock's Abingdon Pryory trilogy), but I hadn't read many set in Italy. Chris Bohjalian returns to historical fiction again after his last novel, The Sandcastle Girls, was set after WWI in Armenia during the genocide there. This time in The Light in the Ruins, we meet the Rosatis, Italian descendants of nobilty. They have a lovely large mansion near Florence and life is good until Italy decides to throw its fortunes in with Hitler's Germany. What I find interesting about many of these books is the theme of what happens to people who want nothing to do with war, who do not support their government. They cannot openly defy their government, and they can hide from the war for only so long before it comes to their doorstep. The story takes place both during WWII and ten years later when someone begins to murder the surviving members of the Rosati family. Daughter-in-law Francesca, who lost her husband and children to the war, is brutally butchered. It is thought that she picked up a strange man who killed her, until another Rosati is murdered. We meet a female Italian homicide detective, Serafina Bettini, which is a unique job for a woman in Italy in the 1950s. Serafina has a fascinating past, and as the story unfolds, we discover her connection to the Rosatis. I loved this character and would enjoy seeing Serafina in another book (hint hint Mr. Bohjalian). Bohjalian has a knack for writing interesting, complicated female characters (Midwives, The Double Bind, The Sandcastle Girls). The book moves back and forth in time, and we see how the Rosatis are drawn further into the war. One son, Francesca's husband, is an engineer who ends up on the front lines. Another son is an art historian, and his job is protecting art from falling into the hands of the Nazis. This part of the story intrigued me, and I learned much about a topic I had not known about before. The youngest Rosati, Cristina, falls in love with a young German soldier, and this complicates matters. Her family is upset, and the townspeople, some of whom are resistance fighters, distrust the Rosatis. They feel that the Rosatis have thrown their lot in with the Nazis and deserve whatever misfortune comes their way. War is hell, and their is plenty of horrific atrocities that take place in the book. Even though as a reader you brace yourself for it, the things that happen are shocking and brutal. The Rosatis have to deal with the Germans, and then the Russians as they come through looking for the Germans. The horrors of war come right into their home and the result is devastating. There is so much in this book to recommend. The history, the characters, the setting (it has increased my desire to visit Italy), the mysteries (who is killing the Rosatis and why, and what happened to Serafina during the war), they all come together in the skilled hands of Chris Bohjalian. I lost myself in The Light in the Ruins and isn't that really why we read books? This is one of the best books I have read this year.
Reading Chris Bohjalian is like savoring my favorite wine. I cant wait to pick it up and devour it and I hate to put it down. Every book he writes just gets better and better. I especially love this one and the setting is another character all its own. Makes me want to head to Italy. If you are a Bohjalian fan you will pick it up and if you have never read Chris, this one will hook you and you will head back to Barnes and Noble and say...what else can I read. No spoilers here, just a strong recommendation for a must read from someone who loves books....now what are you waiting for, go get it.
The short review: Brilliant! Go order this right now. You’re welcome. The long review: This story is told in alternating chapters. Some chapters are based in 1943 and others are in 1955. All is set in Italy. Interspersed are short chapters related to the individual who is killing the remaining Rosati family. The main female characters are Serafina and Christina. In 1943, both women are teenagers and in many ways are polar opposites of each other. Christina Rosati is a teenager who has everything to lose due to the ongoing war and Italy’s alliance with Germany. Slipping away is her privileged life as the only daughter of a marchese, along with her very first romance. Unfortunately, this romance is with a German officer. Serafina on the other hand has nothing to lose, because all for her is already lost. Her family has been killed and her only option is to join up with partisan’s fighting against the Nazis, who have been busy pillaging anything of value from Italy, under the guise of being allies. By 1955, Serafina is a detective and is assigned to a investigate the case of who is gruesomely murdering the Rosatis. Because of this, she meets up with Christina. At this point, both women have more similarities than differences. Both carry the emotional scars that the end of the war brought them and Serafina has the added burden of physical scars from an event that occurred as the German’s were trying to flee Italy. This story was very intense. It is one of those books that was so suspenseful, I did not want to put it down. I could not read fast enough, yet I didn’t want it to end. This was so well written that I felt every heartache, every scary moment, and at the end, I was surprised at the identity of the killer. Chris Bohjalian is on my very, very short list of favorite authors. I have discovered that having “favorite” authors can be a double edged sword. Yes, in most instances, books that I have read by a favorite are typically very good. Sometimes though, the level of anticipation and expectation sets the bar so high that I’m not sure the books even have a fair chance to come up to snuff. Not so with The Light in the Ruins. I thought this was outstanding and was far beyond anything I had expected. Bravo Mr. Bojhalian. I am grateful to Doubleday Books, via Netgalley, for allowing me to read this in exchange for an unbiased review.
I'll admit it: I had a hard time getting into this book. The two time periods alternated back and forth, making it hard to follow the story ar first. Linear story-telling is much simpler, but having read other books by this author I was willing to hang in there for one long sitting! I am so glad I did! Excellent story, creative who-done-it, not an expected ending. Worth reading!
I enjoyed the historical background of the story but did find it confusing as the chapters went back and forth between the characters.
My favorite reads are best-seller murder mysteries, and historical fiction. This book had both elements, and I liked going back and forth between WWII and occupied Italy, and "modern day"-1950's murders. I just discovered this author, which is like reaching into a candy jar and being surprised that a delicious new chocolate is in your hand.
Chris Bohjalian has another hit!! Chris Bohjalian pens another spectacular book with The Light in the Ruins. I have read several of Chris' books and have not found one yet that I didn't like. The story opens in 1955 with the murder of Francesca Rosati. Like Skeletons at the Feast,thought, his latest effort is primarily set set late in WWII, as the tide is turning away from the Germans and toward the Allies. The focus of the story is the life of the Rosati family, who are headed by a marchese and marchesa, and live in their Tuscan villa. First of all, Chris is a consummate story-teller. In most of his books, the chapters alternate between viewpoints. Sometimes it is the differing viewpoints of the characters, but in this case it is between the events of 1943 and 1955 when Francesca is murdered in Florence. Chris is one of the best authors out there when it comes to telling a story from alternate viewpoints, and in The Light in the Ruins he does this by making use of both alternate time periods and alternate character viewpoints. I especially like the way that he threw in the thoughts of the murdered every once in a while. I found myself looking for clues in these small chapters to try to figure out who the murderer was. In addition, his descriptions really make the settings come alive for me. Another thing that I liked about this book, and most of Chris' books, is that there is usually a bit of a twist at the end. I have not been able to figure out these "reveals" in most of his book, and this book was no different. I really enjoy when an author can surprise me with something relevant at the end of the story. If I know this is coming, I find myself trying to figure it out throughout the book and it really keeps my interest. As for character development and use, there is none better than Chris Bohjalian. Once again, in this book, he has crafted characters perfectly suited to illustrate the many sides of his story. In this book there are two pairings that do this well. There are the brothers Rosati, who are participating in the war in very different ways, but the best example is the pair of Cristina and Serafina. The similarities and juxtapositions between these two characters was a great way to show the alternate sides of the story. Both women were the same age, both women were heavily affected by the war, but their lives, both in 1955 and 1943, couldn't have been more different. The thing that I like the best about Chris Bohjalian's work, though, is the way that he can weave a story around such different subjects. None of his books really resemble the others. Sure there are similarities, but when I pick up a book by Chris I know two things. One, that I will enjoy the stories, settings, characters, etc., and two, that it will not be a rehashed or retold version of any of his other stories. Most importantly, I know it will be an enjoyable experience that I will not want to end. Thanks to Chris and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Book for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my review.
The Light in the Ruins is a phenomenal novel. The characters are well developed and worthy of the reader's investment. Nazis (of course) make for great villains.
I could not put this book down. The page by page suspense kept me "glued" to the story. If you are fascinated by events that occurred during World War 11, then you will enjoy this book. Chris Bohjalian is an excellent author and I would definitely recommend this book to a book club.
I could not put this down litterly.I like it so much I went and bought his Mid Wife haven't started it yet because I have company and have to get some work done and if it is like The light in the Ruins I wont get anything done.
Excellent book: the style, the plot, the History behind the plot everything contributes to make this book one you cannot let go of.
I thought this was a great book. There a several stories intertwined, and it jumps back & forth between 1943 & 1955 Italy, but is so well written that I had no trouble keeping things straight. I honestly didn't know much about the Italian involvement in WWII, and this book inspired me to research! I will definitely pick up more of Mr. Bohjalian's books, and absolutely recommend this one!
Another outstanding novel from Chris Bohjalian. I've read almost all of them and have never been disappointed. His characters, setting and plot keep you riveted to the last page. If you have not read any of his books, start anywhere and savor the ride. Congratulations, Chris.
I thought Sand Castle Girls was excellent, but this book is more excellent! Learned things about WW2 that I had not known before and my Mother/Father In Law were Italian. An excellent mystery, a little love story. Moves at a fast pace and not until the last pages does it all come together. Any of Bohjalian books are good reads!
Great book, loved the plot. Mr. Bohjalian never seems to disappoint.
Amazing, heart wrenching, wonderful!
PlEASE B &N THERE ARE MANY FALSE RATINGS DUE TO MISLEADING RATINGS AND COMMENTS. HIRE A REVIEW BOARD TO WEED OUT THIS CHILDISH BEHAVIOR. YOUR DEDICATED READERS CERTAINLY PAY ENOUGH AND DESERVE SOME ATTENTION FROM YOU IN THIS AREA.
Good story and kept my interest.
I am a big fan of Chris Bohjalian. I enjoyed this book. I appreciated the historical information about Italy during World War II. I recommend this book to other readers.
This is a wonderful murder mystery set in post WW II Italy.
Excellent book. I have only recently begun reading books about the Germans in Italy during WW II and not realizing the destruction that they did to the Italians and the countryside. The Light in the Ruins was so well written and held your attention. The ending was quick but the book captured you from the very beginning. Highly recommend this book to readers. Couldn't put it down. Even though some people did not like going back and forth with the characters and the years, I felt this added to the story line.
As usual Chris Bohjalian knocks it out of the park! The Light in the Ruins is well-written, intense and while not always a pleasure to read, as it deals with difficult topics, it is an excellent read. The topic is a departure from some of his other works and he dives head on into the murky doings of some families in Tuscany during WWII. While not for the squeamish as the author does not shy away from details I would highly recommend this book!
Loved this book!
You will not be disappointed. Reads quickly. One of those books you can't put down.