Thursday, 23 July 2015
Early One Morning by Virginia Baily
review by Maryom
In October 1943, with German oppression mounting, Chiara Ravello has decided that Rome is no longer a safe place to be; people are being randomly stopped on the street, and either hauled away for interrogation or shot there on the spot. Chiara intends leaving, taking her sister and heading to their grandmother's house in the hills, but before she can, she is witness to yet another atrocity - the rounding up of Jews for transportation to who knows where. Catching the eye of a mother being hustled aboard a truck with her husband and family, Chiara steps forward and claims one of the children as her nephew. This spontaneous action is to change her life. Looking after someone else's child isn't easy but it's made especially hard as the boy, Daniele, doesn't seem glad to have been rescued and has every inclination to run away at the first opportunity. Gradually though a bond forms between Chiara and Daniele, but the lives of both are shadowed by the war and its aftermath.
Thirty years or so later, Chiara is living in Rome, single but seemingly happy. At heart, though, she's troubled - Daniele, always a source of worry, after causing immense grief and heart-ache, has disappeared. Chiara has no idea where or how he's been living for the past ten years - or even if he's still alive. Then, out of the blue, she's contacted by a teenager, Maria, claiming to be Daniele's daughter, and Chiara finds herself once again taking a troubled youngster under her wing.
Events unfold from three points of view, skilfully woven together - Chiara's during the war, and both Chiara's and Maria's perspectives in the 1970s; Daniele is seen only through their eyes but his behaviour and actions shape their world.
Chiara acted without thinking, but with immense courage - doing what we all hope we would do in such a situation. With Daniele she takes on a burden which almost breaks her - she finds despair and heart-break but also unexpected love and fulfilment. She tries her best to provide Daniele with a stable environment to grow up in but, always wayward and stubborn, as he gets older he seems trapped by survivor guilt.
Maria meanwhile is searching for a different set of answers - who was her father and why has the truth about him been hidden from her? She's stumbled on information that shatters her world, and I really sympathised with her anger and confusion at her mother's deception.
Their characters are built up carefully, with fine touches here and there adding to the whole, and unexpected revelations bringing to light the little 'kinks' that make them seem as real as you or I.
The story unfolds against the backdrop of Rome -
These separate strands weave together to form a gripping read exploring the consequences of an impromptu act and the long emotional fall-out of war through the thoughts and actions of three troubled people; as events unfolded, I fell completely under its spell. I loved the characters, the writing style and the setting - in the 1940s' scenes Rome is a dark, rain-drenched, shadowy city, in the 1970s it's filled with sunshine and light and in both periods described in a way to make the reader feel there on the same streets as Chiara or Maria.
If you're looking for a summer read that falls between the summer romances and thrillers, that's literary but above all readable, then try this!
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Virago
Genre - Adult Fiction,