When I read a Dinah Jefferies book I know I am going to be transported to another time and place. With her previous novels, this has been to places like Malaysia and Burma. The Tuscan Contessa did indeed whisk me away but this time it was to Second World War Tuscany. But this was not the place of warmth and beauty you may associate with this lovely part of Italy, but a place of fear and hunger, courage and strength.
Sofia is the eponymous Tuscan countess living under German occupation following the surrender of Italy to the allies. Like many Italians, she does her best to help defeat the Nazis by sheltering those in need, tending to the wounded and feeding those who need fed. In her privileged position, she is perhaps under less suspicion than her fellow townspeople but nonetheless, what she is doing is very risky. She is joined by American- Italian Maxine who is working for the resistance and although wary of each other initially, the two women grow to trust one another and work together.
I was lucky enough to be invited to take part in a Zoom book launch with Dinah Jefferies on publication day which was a very enjoyable experience. It was great to see so many names I recognised taking part from other bloggers, to authors and others from the publishing world. Thanks to Bettina at TripFiction for allowing me to use her screenshot after I failed in my attempt to take one. And thank to Chloe at Penguin for inviting me.
One thing I really enjoyed about the Zoom launch was hearing about the inspiration for the book. The author had worked as an au pair in Italy some years back and more recently spent some time there somewhat housebound following a fall on holiday. While reading up on the history of the house she was staying in and the surrounding area, she learned about the experiences of Tuscany during the Second World War. I must admit that I didn’t know much about Italy in the war especially after the surrender to the allies. I hadn’t really been aware of the Italian resistance though, of course, there were brave people risking their lives to save others and to pass on intelligence to the allies all over occupied Europe. The Tuscan Contessa is clearly extremely well researched which really brought the women’s stories to life. Throughout the book we see the best and the worst of human nature. This particular extract really spoke to me and recognised that there was good and bad on both sides of the war:
‘She knew there were good kind Germans who’d never wanted the war, who’d emphatically never wanted Hitler. Many Italians hadn’t wanted Mussolini either and so many families on both sides only wanted to get on with living their lives. But war was making monsters of them all.’
The Tuscan Contessa was a very engaging and enlightening read which really appealed to all my senses. From the beautiful colours of the Tuscan countryside, to the heat of the Italian sun, the taste of the food (albeit not the usual fare we might expect on an Italian holiday) and the scent of the flowers and plants, everything combined for a rich reading experience. The beauty of Italy contrasted vividly with the terror and uncertainty of the German occupation. This is a book which will appeal to fans of historical fiction with its mix of courage, love, loss and hope. Although I will admit to a slight fondness for the perhaps more exotic settings of the author’s previous novels, this is a book which will captivate anyone with an interest in Italy and fiction set during wartime.
My thanks to Georgia Taylor for sending me a copy of the book for review and having me as part of the blogtour. The Tuscan Contessa is published by Viking Books (an imprint of Penguin) and is available now in ebook, paperback and audiobook formats. Please support a local bookshop if you can. You will find buying options for various retailers on the Penguin website here: The Tuscan Contessa
From the back of the book
In 1943, Contessa Sofia de’ Corsi’s peaceful Tuscan villa among the olive groves is upturned by the sudden arrival of German soldiers. Desperate to fight back, she agrees to shelter a wounded British radio engineer in her home, keeping him hidden from her husband Lorenzo – knowing that she is putting all of their lives at risk.
When Maxine, an Italian-American working for the resistance, arrives on Sofia’s doorstep, the pair forge an uneasy alliance. Feisty, independent Maxine promised herself never to fall in love. But when she meets a handsome partisan named Marco, she realizes it’s a promise she can’t keep…
Before long, the two women find themselves entangled in a dangerous game with the Nazis. Will they be discovered? And will they both be able to save the ones they love?
About the author
Dinah was born in Malaya in 1948 and moved to England at the age of nine. In 1985, the sudden death of her fourteen year old son changed the course of her life, and deeply influenced her writing. Dinah drew on that experience, and on her own childhood spent in Malaya during the 1950s to write her debut novel, The Separation.
Now living in Gloucestershire with her husband and their Norfolk terrier, she spends her days writing, with time off with her grandchildren.