On opening this beautiful book, I arrived in the ‘early morning sunshine at Perugia’, with Anna. I sat back as she drove the Italian car and observed the way that the road ‘…cut its way through tobacco fields sprouting green shoots and [took] a mountain road joining Sansepolcro to Rimini.’ I admired the olive trees and waited as the ‘road climbed’. It was impossible not to see the ‘lake glistening’ and to imagine the people sheltering in this setting during World War Two.
On arrival at Rofelle, I found my way through the tangle of ivy, listened to the river rushing past the stones and opened the large wooden door to the mill. The paint was peeling, but the knocker of the lion’s head stood proud; as if to announce the courage of Davide, Ines and their parents. I opened the door to enter the past, with Anna, through the letters and diaries. It was wonderful to meet Anna’s mother, in the diaries, but painful to discover that her ‘heart began to shrivel a little each day…’ during her traumatic life.
I stopped at the mill ‘hidden in the folds of the Alps of the Moon, where the sun sets from the jewel red skies behind misted blue peaks.’ Anna’s mother once lived in a mill, and she explains ‘…the old building in ruins, crumbling into nothing seems to mirror what I am leaning of Mamma’s past.’ The Mill is ‘fragile’ and is a symbol of lost history and lost dreams that could be rekindled by the new generation. Sitting on the steps to read the letters and diaries, I sensed the ‘breeze that dances on the river’. Listening to the ‘sound of the river and distant sheep bells’, I could feel the loneliness of Ines. I am sure I heard the voices of the German soldiers who would have bathed there, and the whispers of the POWs and partisans hidden in the mountains.
I was completely spellbound by the characters and the clever structure of this novel. ‘Tuscan Roots’ is a beautifully written novel examining cultural differences, the impact of war and the risks that ordinary people will take. I was intrigued by the details of post war Britain, but wanted to stay in Italy. The contrast between the two settings and cultures reinforces Ines’ emotional landscape. The patchwork of history and the present are sewn together effortlessly with Angela’s distinctive prose. How much do we really understand about our grandparents and parents’ experiences? Such a poignant message is presented:
‘We should not bury our memories, even if they are painful, even if mistakes were made in those times, which causes us anguish…we must learn from them.’
I discovered Anna’s history, trusted her observations and understood her pain. I was very fond of the vulnerable, innocent Ines who demonstrated incredible bravery. The descriptions of the setting rooted me to the novel, and made me understand how it bound Ines to her homeland. I pondered the way that a landscape can remain untouched throughout the generations but people leave clues about the place’s history. The author examines how war changes circumstances and the simple things that we take for granted. I was in awe of the people who made sacrifices for others during the war, in Italy. The romance of the setting presents the reader with the hope of love. The romance in the novel is wonderful, natural and tender. Angela’s writing style is captivating.
The food prepared by the locals, in the Italian Apennines, transcends time and bridges the gap between the generations. I enjoyed ‘the stuffed zucchini flowers, little squares of crostini topped with spicy tomatoes, liver pate and a creamy relish made from dandelion flowers, roasted bay leaves topped with ovals of melted cheese.’ Food is prepared to celebrate feasts, to welcome people into the home, to celebrate family occasions and to woo.
This novel evokes the senses and leaves the reader firmly fixed in Tuscany. Not the tourist’s Italy, but rural, down to earth Italy – ‘this landscape feels lived in’, and the author breathes life into ‘the ghosts from the past’. The story of the POW and partisans provide another dimension to this story, and I was impressed with how this was skilfully woven into the story.
Read Tuscan Roots, and you will not want to leave the romantic beauty of ‘indigo blue mountains’, or the ruins of Il Mulino (The Mill). You will be impressed with the bravery of the Italian community during the war, and you will not want to leave the blossoming romance. I highly recommend this book!