This is the story of two women, who even though they've never met, their lives will become intricately connected. English ex-patriate Alice shocks her family when she marries an older Italian, Claudio Orsini, and together they buy a rundown villa in Tuscany. While Alice initially immerses herself in the restoration of the villa, surrounding buildings and farmer tenants, it doesn’t take long before she misses the British social life in Rome. However, her actions at one of these parties will change the course of her life. She is left dealing with feelings of guilt, heart-breaking loss and ultimately her own survival when the Germans retreat and plunder their way through Tuscany in 1944.
In Rome, we meet Kristin, a Scandinavian fledging artist who interns under Marshall, a renowned restoration artist. She is young and trusting and falls under Marshall’s spell, eventually becoming his lover, but the bloom of love soon fades. Kristin plans the perfect revenge against her lover using her own restoration skills, or so she thinks, until events spiral out of control leaving her trying desperately to undo a crime against art itself.
The story follows these two women, told in first person for Alice and third person for Kristin. What do these seemingly random women have in common? It is only when Kristin shows up at Alice’s villa seeking sanctuary from the retreating Germans that we begin to learn their darkest secrets and how their lives intersect. While both women suffer in the war, I found that I was much more invested in Kristin’s story. The character of Alice seemed flat to me and I found the constant shifting of POVs to be confusing at times. It took a few paragraphs to realize that I was once again in Alice’s head.
The author is at his best with a final chapter that shines when all the pieces of their lives fall into place. Fans of literary fiction will definitely enjoy this book.