THE ENEMY OF LOVE
An atmospheric new novel from Annabelle Thorpe, set in wartime Italy and following the fortunes of an Italian family under Mussolini’s rule.
1943, Wartime Italy
Trattoria di Luca sits at the heart of the small Umbrian town of Amatino. For decades it has been run by the di Luca and Capaldi patriarchs and become a byword not only for fabulous food, but also wine from the Capaldi vineyard. But now the last of these great men is dead, Italy is consumed by war and everything must change.
Sophie di Luca has always assumed her beloved father would leave the trattoria to her, a fine chef in her own right. But in Mussolini’ s Italy a woman’ s place is strictly in the home, and Sophie’ s father has secretly arranged for Giorgio Capaldi to come back from Rome to take over Trattoria di Luca.
Charismatic, forceful, grieving the loss of his wife and unborn baby in an Allied bombing raid, Giorgio is in no mood to compromise with Sophie. As conflict within the family rises, Mussolini falls and the Germans march in. Life is about to become very dangerous indeed.
An atmospheric and moving novel, perfect for fans of Santa Montefiore and Victoria Hislop.
ANNABELLE THORPE – (Image from the author website)
Annabelle Thorpe has been a travel and features journalist for over twenty years, spending six years on The Times Travel desk, before becoming deputy travel editor for Express Newspapers, and then taking the same role at the Observer.
She was named one of the top 50 travel writers in the UK and has visited almost sixty countries, including crossing China by train, driving solo across the Omani desert, and nearly getting run over in Tripoli.
Her first novel, The People We Were Before, was set in the Croatian civil war of the 1990s, her second, What Lies Within, was set in Marrakech. She has also written two travel books.
Home is rural Sussex, with her husband and cat, although she remains a Londoner at heart.
VINCENTO, JANUARY 1941
“It feels good to be in Vincento again. From her seat at the edge of the Cimitero San Martina, Angelina Capaldi gazes out over the wild Lazio plains; broad rectangles of coffee-coloured soil, dusty ochre fields and tangled armies of leafless vines like an untidy patchwork quilt”
AMATINO, JULY 1943
“The sun is still shaking off the last layers of dawn when Sophia slips out of the house and sets off towards Casa Maria. The street is in shadow, doors barely discernible from the imposing walls that have stood for centuries, undisturbed by the litany of invaders and warriors and priests who have all, at one time or another, claimed Amatino as their own”
“You know what the fascisti do to women who try to be independent, who don’t want to marry and have a family. Lock them up. Call them mentally defective”
“He has forgotten this too; the awkward intensity of a house without women; his father’s clumsy attempts to be both parents, to fill a gap that would always remain unfillable”
“Unexpectedly, a voice rises from the street below, something shouted in German, a word he doesn’t recognise. He thinks of Sophia hurling glasses at the floor; there was something impressive, almost mesmerising in the fury that roared out of her”
“Old enough to know right from wrong. Just not old enough to act on it”
“The landscape is unrecognisable to her now; the crumbling outbuildings and copses of trees look dark and furtive, the land between them a silent battleground, where returning soldiers and foreign fighters slip between the cypress trees like ghosts”
“This is what war does; breaks up families, pits brother against brother. Well, not with the Capaldis. Not while I’m alive to stop it happening”
“An ungrateful friend is little more than an enemy with a smile on his face”
“Use your youth, girls. Squeeze every drop out of it, blaze as brightly as you can. It’s over before you realize”
“War is the enemy of love, cara – it tries to teach us that hate and brutality is all the world is capable of. To love at such a time is one of the most extraordinary acts of hope. The greatest of victories”
“Grief does strange things to a body. But self-pity is like a bad lemon; bitter, hard on the tongue. It’s a worthless indulgence. I won’t tolerate it in others, and I certainly don’t tolerate it in myself”
“War is the enemy of love, cara – it tries to teach us that hate and brutality is all the world is capable of”
I haven’t read a good ‘weepy’ for some time now and although romance was just one element of this multi-layered storyline, it formed the bedrock for everything else, ably demonstrating the impact war can have on mind, body, soul and relationships. Thus, I make no apologies for the number of memorable moments I featured from the book, as they truly reflect the wonderfully poignant and evocative quality and descriptive nature of the narrative and dialogue.
So, The story in a nutshell…
When, in 1943, Luigi de Luca dies, the future of Trattoria de Luca, a joint venture between the di Luca and Capaldi families, is thrown into disarray. With the men engulfed in a war no one is certain they can win, or even know what they are really fighting for, Sophia di Luca expects management of the Trattoria to fall to her. She has worked alongside her father day after day and is almost as good a cook as he was. She is independent, strong-minded and has a good business brain. However, she has underestimated her father’s strong traditional views, that an Italian woman’s place is in the the home, as a daughter, then wife and mother. So, when she discovers that before his death Luigi had sent to Rome to ask his old partner’s eldest son Giorgio Capaldi to come home and take over the Trattoria, you just know that sparks are going to fly.
However, Giorgio, having been injured and invalided out of the army, is a man still very much drowning in his own grief and being back home, surrounded by his well-meaning family and friends, is not at all what he had in mind, especially as none of them know the full extent of his sorrow. His Nonna Elena, lives above the Trattoria and despite her advancing years, her word carries a lot of clout, both within the Capaldi family and in the wider environs of the town itself. When the arguing and bickering between Sophia and Giorgio, over the management of the kitchen becomes more than she can stand, she comes up with the idea that they should run the Trattoria together, as equal partners.
Right now, as a result of the life-changing events he has had to deal with, the Allies are the primary focus of all Giorgio’s anger, so when Mussolini falls, the new President surrenders to the Allies, and the Germans sweep into town, he is in the very small minority of inhabitants who are cautiously optimistic. The Allies now suddenly want to set up Resistance Units in Italian towns, which doesn’t sit well with Giorgio and splits the population down the middle, dividing families and pitting brother against brother, father against son. However, when the new regime becomes imbedded in the community and begins to show its true colours, rounding up the Jewish community and hounding down the very youngest of boys to be conscripted, everyone is forced to take sides, even Giorgio, especially when Sophia’s young brother Matti is well and truly in their sights. Two terrible, gut-wrenching incidents, which show their German masters up for what they really are, serve to pull everyone together ready to fight for the common cause and this time Giorgio is ready to be front and centre of any assault, fighting alongside Sophia who is determined that she wants to play an active role in avenging her family and is refusing to stand on the sidelines.
Alongside all of this, the growing feelings between Giorgio and the feisty Sophia cannot be ignored, as much as they both try to deny it, to the amusement and frustration of family, friends and indeed, the rest of the community. Even Giorgio’s hot headed brother Rocco, who, before he had headed off to fight and having now returned, thought he had an agreement with Sophia, eventually has to accept that his was probably a rather one-sided arrangement and eventually gives Giorgio his blessing. The constant denials of any feelings between the two lovebirds only leads to more fighting and acrimony, until it is not only Elena who is at her wits end, but also the young padre Massimo, who is determined that his two friends should sort out their feelings for one another, just in case the worst should happen.
When everyone’s unimaginable nightmares come true, salvation for the young couple comes from a selfless act of kindness and gratitude, which although in itself is not the panacea they might have wished for, will hopefully keep them both safe until hostilities are over and they can be reunited.
It seems to me that Italy’s place in WWII at this time, was very complicated, with the country’s leader Mussolini, pushing his people first one way and then the other, leaving communities quite divided about who their enemy really was. Author Annabelle Thorpe did an excellent job at illustrating the confusion that caused, in this microcosmic, single timeline snapshot, of wartime life in a small fictional town in the Umbrian district of Italy. The wider theatre of war was of course, alluded to, but in no great detail and certainly not enough to detract from the narrow focus she had set herself for this story, which although beautifully executed and told with a panache and verve, was thoughtfully tempered by a deep sensitivity to the needs of her individual characters.
The timeline is easy to follow, the storyline is multi-layered, and the narrative is beautifully textured and nuanced, full of emotion and feeling. In such a close and insular community, which finds itself under German occupation, every strata of society is affected to varying degrees and no one escapes the wrath of an army flexing its military muscle. Jews, and people from other secular races, regardless of gender or age, are being rounded up, often beaten for the merest show of passive resistance, and with little order or supervision from higher authority, small clusters of unmarked graves begin to appear in secluded spots above the town. Young men of fighting age are also targets of the new regime and whilst there are those who can’t wait to stand up and be counted, some, such as Sophia’s young brother Matti, question exactly who and what they are fighting for, and seek to avoid capture, choosing instead to help the Allied Resistance movement which is gathering pace and strength across the country.
This open and descriptive style is also reflected in the cast of characters Annabelle has assembled, who are well developed and defined, and more than capable of telling their own story, which they do without any prompting. The really strong, standout characters for me were, Sophia, Isaac, Elena and Massimo, although to be honest, everyone played their parts to perfection. The two women, despite the vast difference in their ages and the eras in which they have been brought up, are remarkably united in their belief that despite their gender, they are more than capable of running a home and family, whilst still being independent enough to hold down a job, take their places and have their voices heard outside, in the wider society. Thus, any relationship between Giorgio and Sophia, is never going to be plain sailing, saccharine, or peaceful. However, when they can accept that they are equals in all aspects of a partnership, they will definitely work effectively and successfully as a good team.
Massimo, takes his role as padre to this small community, very seriously and is more than willing to put his own life at risk, in offering sanctuary to those who need it most. He is especially close to the Capaldi and di Luca families, and thus the Jew, Isaac, who has maybe not too secretly held a candle for Elena for many years, feelings which are reciprocated by the lady in question, although she might never openly admit it. Massimo stages his own small rebellion against his German captors, for which Elena and Isaac will be forever grateful. Whilst Isaac in his turn, makes the final and ultimate sacrifice of selfless love and devotion.
Annabelle gathers together in this story, all the emotions in the spectrum, with her strong, independent and feisty females. The impetuosity, over-enthusiasm and exuberance of a youth which doesn’t want to be suppressed. The compassion and selfless kindness of those least able to help themselves or others. And the sheer brutality and feral behaviour of those who have been indoctrinated with the belief that they reign supreme over others and can do no wrong.
She also uses a mix of real and fictional locations, although pertinent details enabled me to pinpoint whereabouts in the fantastic Umbrian Italian countryside I was. The ardent armchair traveller in me was teased by a genuine sense of time and place that I could almost step into and an atmosphere which lingered long after I had closed the final page. Annabelle definitely used the full palette at her disposal to paint both the physical location of her storyline and the portraits of her characters.
What typically makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by some amazing authors who fire my imagination, stimulate my senses and stir my emotions. This storyline gave more than I could have hoped for on just about every one of those fronts, so thanks for some lovely memories to treasure Annabelle, although I might still have longed for a more conclusive ending, which neatly tied up all those ‘what if’ loose ends and denouements.
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by publisher Aria Fiction and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 5 out of 5 stars!
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