Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

On Friday, June 4, the library book group will discuss A Thread of Grace, a sprawling novel which takes place in northern Italy during its occupation by Nazi Germany. It has a huge cast of characters (Italian Jews, Jewish refugees from other parts of Europe, Italian resistance fighters and spies, and Nazis), and since it's wartime you never know who will die next (sadly, even the characters to whom you've grown attached - the author's son flipped a coin to see which characters would live or die, and Mary Doria Russell wrote accordingly.)

Whether murder is unforgivable, or if restitution can ever be made, is one of the main questions of the book. Schramm is a Nazi doctor who is AWOL in Italy dying of tuberculosis. His confession is heard by Don Osvaldo, an Italian priest who refuses to absolve him of his sins even though he knows that he must believe that only God can judge Schramm. Renzo, an Italian Jew and Resistance fighter who struggles with his responsibility for the death of civilians in a previous war, hides Schramm in the mountains. The women characters play no less a role, whether it's Claudia, a charming refugee from Belgium who quickly loses her naivete after crossing the Alps on foot, or Renzo's feisty mother Lidia, the first woman in their town to ride a bicycle, becomes a bomb-wielding partisan in her old age.

Mary Doria Russell gave an interview to BookBrowse, and I love this line so much I have to quote it: "Italian Jews? I thought I was the only one! What do they eat? Lox parmesan?" There is also the previously mentioned coin-flipping interview with Book Page and the Random House interview, which you can read here, along with the discussion questions. The Manitowoc Public Library's site has another set of questions for A Thread of Grace.

Any remaining questions you have (such as, what's up with page 407?) can probably be answered on the FAQ on Mary Doria Russell's site.

If you're interested in reading more about Italy during the occupation, BHPL owns Benevolence and Betrayal by Alexander Stille (945 STI). Chapter 4, "The Rabbi, The Priest and the Aviator" is the inspiration for the Soncinis, Don Osvaldo and Renzo.

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