These days, it’s a rare occasion to come across a well-written, beautifully told story that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned, and the book cover closed. Pamela Allegretto’s “Bridge of Sighs and Dreams” is one of those remarkable, extraordinary novels that I have been privileged to read this year.
This story, an historical fiction novel set in Rome, Italy during the Fascist government and the subsequent Nazi-occupation and Allied liberation, tells the story of Angelina Rosini and Lidia Corsini and their intersecting lives that are fraught with love, betrayal, sacrifice, lust for power, greed, and duplicity, and triumph.
When Angelina Rosini’s village is bombed, she and her daughter, Gina, flee to Rome after an Allied attack. Meanwhile, her husband, Pietro, joins the military. Though she is apolitical, she finds herself thrust into the world of the Italian Resistance with both trustworthy and nefarious individuals. Angelia continues her artwork, sketching anti-Fascist cartoons and painting portraits to survive.
Conversely, Angelina’s sister-in-law, who is Pietro’s sister, is busy conniving ways to cozy up to the Nazis to fill her purse, ego, and appetite for social position. She stops at nothing, first with snitching against Jews and ultimately betraying her family, including her son, Carmine.
Pamela Allegretto’s writing style is beautiful and lyrical, and I became engrossed in the setting, characters, and story.
“They dined on baked gnocchi and roasted eggplant with red peppers and rosemary. They each were served a Rosetta Veneziana, a tender roll shaped like a flower with its petals neatly tucked in the center. Angela peeled the petals from her roll, ate one, and left the rest to wilt on her plate.”
This is beautiful imagery that wakes up the olfactory and visual senses. I could almost (maybe I did) smell the fresh yeast from the bread, the pungent rosemary on the eggplant, see the darkened red peppers against the creamy flesh of the eggplant, and the blending of all colors and aromas around the dining table that honestly delighted me.
Throughout the novel, the author cleverly and brilliantly inserts smatterings of Italian, which adds to the flavor and emotion of the story. For example: “’“Poverina,” the man mumbled. “This war has cast its evil shadow in her mind.”’ The Italian word “poverina” doesn’t distract from the pace nor the narrative. I found it charming and apropos to the story. Furthermore, there is the tiniest bit of German, but that, too, the reader should understand without being fluent: “He rolled down his window and said, ‘Guten Morgen.’”
Because the story is set during World War II, I fully expected to see violent scenes, gore, and death. That is reality, and to the author’s credit, she conveyed those scenes with reality and class. Yes, the reader sees bullets grazing limbs and bullets passing through bodies and a knife thrust into flesh, but the “blood and guts” is shown is such a way that it doesn’t force the reader to ruminate on it, but rather it allows the reader to understand it is presented as a fact of war, and then the action moves along to the next scene.
The world is war-ravaged: “They passed a smoldering vineyard, whose memory of emerald leaves and purple grapes now dulled to shades of gray ash.” Yet, it is established that even with the destruction, the reader can see the bit of beauty and greater hope still holding on.
Nevertheless, this is not a completely dark and joyless story. As the reader will discover, there is humor in war:
‘” The soldier unfolded the presumed incriminating paper and read aloud from it, “Pane, olio, vino…” “That’s a shopping list!” the first soldier exclaimed, grabbing the list and reading it himself. Frustrated, the soldier pulled Michele away from the wall and said, “Michele Ponza, you are under arrest.” “What are the charges?” Michele mocked the soldier. “Did I forget to add the milk?”’
I laughed with and cheered on Michele simultaneously. Bravissimo!
Additionally, there is bliss in the simplest thing as eating long-denied chocolates:
“She stared at this nun, who had chocolate dripping from her lips, and she wondered if everyone in the convent might be a bit round the bend.”
The characters are so very well and expertly developed that the reader cannot help but care one way or another about them, and hope for their rewards.
Indeed, early on, Lidia reveals her disdain for her husband: “You’re such a worm.” Her malevolent demeanor and hate towards everyone show an apparent no end. Conversely, despite the difficulties and deaths that Angelina faces, we always feel her strength and benevolence that even under the gloomiest conditions, she finds sunshine and holds onto some of the basic human qualities: courage and hope.
This is a novel well worth reading and re-reading for its historical accuracy, expressive and lyrical writing style, and fascinating story with characters that are both appealing and repulsive.
But then, that is life, and those are people, no matter the era or location. And that is the reality of what makes this novel worth reading and savoring. You can find “Bridge of Sighs and Dreams” by Pamela Allegretto HERE on Amazon.
Read more of my book reviews and recommendations on Goodreads, Susan Marie Molloy (Author).
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