Friday, October 17, 2014

A Review of Alyson Richman’s The Garden of Letters

By Kim

It’s no secret to regular readers of our blog that Alyson Richman is one of my all-time favorite authors. Click here to read my gushing review of The Lost Wife, which is the first book of hers I had read.

I recently purchased Alyson's new novel, The Garden of Letters and made a passing comment on one of her Facebook posts that if she ever came to Dallas I’d love to get it signed. She wrote back within an hour and said that she would soon be in town for a luncheon and would love to meet me.

I spent well over an hour chatting with Alyson in the lobby of her hotel a few days ago and she graciously allowed me to record our interview for What Women Write. Check back on Halloween and I’ll post a transcript here. (There’s nothing spooky about our conversation other than the number of times I nodded my head in complete agreement—that just happens to be the day of my next post.)

In the meantime, here is my review of The Garden of Letters.

Synopsis (from the book jacket)

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.

Written in dazzling prose and 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.

Author photo by Deborah Downes
About Alyson Richman (from the book jacket):

Alyson Richman is the author of The Mask Carver’s Son, The Rhythm of Memory, The Last Van Gogh, and The Lost Wife, She lives in Long Island with her husband and two children. 

My review:

The Lost Wife still resonates so deeply with me that I worried I’d be subconsciously comparing the two books while I read. The novels have some elements in common, after all. They both take place during WWII. They both contain a tragic love story, but are about far more than love. They both have a protagonist with a passion for a form of art. Lenka, from The Lost Wife, was an artist. Elodie, from The Garden of Letters, was a cellist. Both women possess a level of courage that is awe-inspiring.

The similarities end there, however, and I can honestly say that I never once thought of Josef and Lenka while reading about Elodie and Luca. I thought of very little beyond my need to find out what happened next. I did not tear through the book—reading an Alyson Richman novel too quickly would be a bit like gulping down an expensive bottle of wine in ten minutes. The prose is lush, each scene having been crafted with obvious care. It should be savored, even in those moments that leave a bitter aftertaste.

The Garden of Letters contains the most beautiful and sensual love scene I’ve ever read, and I read a lot. It’s a many-layered painting that is neither graphic nor gratuitous. It also contains an act of brutality that makes me shudder every time I think of it.

Highly recommended.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...