After listening to The Velvet Hours and loving it, I was thrilled to discover The Garden of Letters by the same author. And even more happy that it was set in Northern Italy, during the latter part of WWII with a cast of characters involved in the Italian Resistance, of which I know little.
Title: The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman
Genre: Historical / Romance / WWII
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Narrator: Elizabeth Sastre
Content rating: PG-13 + M for mature themes and tasteful sex scenes
Set against the rich backdrop of World War II Italy, The Garden of Letters captures the hope, suspense, and romance of an uncertain era, in an epic intertwining story of first love, great tragedy, and spectacular bravery.
Portofino, Italy, 1943. A young woman steps off a boat in a scenic coastal village. Although she knows how to disappear in a crowd, Elodie is too terrified to slip by the German officers while carrying her poorly forged identity papers. She is frozen until a man she's never met before claims to know her. In desperate need of shelter, Elodie follows him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino.
Only months before, Elodie Bertolotti was a cello prodigy in Verona, unconcerned with world events. But when Mussolini's Fascist regime strikes her family, Elodie is drawn into the burgeoning resistance movement by Luca, a young and impassioned bookseller. As the occupation looms, she discovers that her unique musical talents, and her courage, have the power to save lives.
In Portofino, young doctor Angelo Rosselli gives the frightened and exhausted girl sanctuary. He is a man with painful secrets of his own, haunted by guilt and remorse. But Elodie's arrival has the power to awaken a sense of hope and joy that Angelo thought was lost to him forever.
This is the story of two people, Elodie Bertolotti and Angelo Roselli, who meet under duress and hard circumstances during the invasion of the Germans in Italy. They are two broken individuals who form a fragile friendship and eventually find healing. The two stories alternate in the past of each of these main characters and we slowly get to know what led them to each other.
Elodie is a cello prodigy in Verona, who falls in love with Luca and joins him in the resistance movement. She is a brilliant musician with an outstanding memory and will use her talents to help the resistance. But she suffers heartache as the war ravages all that she loves. Angelo, a kindhearted soul, is a doctor who fought in the war years earlier and returns home wounded and heartbroken at the losses that await him there.
I loved both of their stories, how they were slowly revealed to us, each layer peeled away to uncover the mysteries that brought Elodie and Angelo together. Alyson has a beautiful way of writing about art; in this book it's the art of music. Music itself is like a character in this novel, making this an emotional, atmospheric and evocative novel. I was mesmerized as I listened to the audiobook. Richman also knows how to create distinct characters that stay with you long after you finish reading the book.
The narrator Elizabeth Sastre does an excellent job. Her voice captures well all the different characters and her pronunciation of Italian words, names or expressions was good. Her voice and intonation conveyed well the character, setting or mood of the story. I will look for more audiobooks narrated by Elizabeth Sastre.
Once again, as with The Velvet Hours, this book was well-written, rich with unforgettable characters, romance and heartbreak. Another entrancing story perfect for lovers of historical fiction and the Italian setting. I am now an avid fan of Alyson Richman and will read all her books. This one too has made it to my list of Best Reads of 2017.
Disclosure: Thanks to eStories for giving me a complimentary copy of this audiobook. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.
Alyson Richman is the #1 internationally bestselling author of five novels, inlcuding "The Lost Wife" and "The Garden of Letters"and “The Velvet Hours”.
She is the daughter of an abstract artist and an electrical engineer, and graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in art history and Japanese studies. She herself is an accomplished painter, and her novels combine her deep love of art, historical research, and travel.