Review: The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

Review: The Light in the Ruins by Chris BohjalianThe Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
Amazon|The Book Depository
Pages: 309
Published by Doubleday on July 9th 2013
Genres: Historical Fiction

From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge—set in war-ravaged Tuscany.
1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.
1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.
Set against an exquisitely rendered Italian countryside, The Light in the Ruins unveils a breathtaking story of moral paradox, human frailty, and the mysterious ways of the heart.

I’ve only read one Chris Bohjalian book prior to this, Water Witches, and I wasn’t crazy about the story but loved Bohjalian’s lyrical writing style and the ability to deliver a story with rich characters and a storyline that flows. I find the switching of narratives a difficult technique, but Bohjalian is a master and seems to weave in and out of time and character in The Light in the Ruins.

The Light in the Ruins takes place in 1943 Italy at the end of World War II as the Germans lose hold on Italy, and about ten years after, in 1955. The story focuses on the Rosati family, a wealthy Tuscan family, hunted by a brutal serial killer. The story is told from the point of view of the Rosati’s in 1943, and from Seraphina, a detective in Florence in 1955. Detective Seraphina works to uncover the connection between the Rosati’s and the murderer while also dealing with some personal demons leftover from the War.

Each character is a diverse exploration and offers a unique insight about the War, the Germans who invaded their country and homes, and their roles, perspectives and relationships during this time. Bohjalian really makes readers question their own actions and responsibilities, had they been in a similar situation.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, the back story and the murder plot. I felt the pace was enough to create suspense and drum up to the reveal and climax of the story, though it was anti-climatic. I loved the excerpts where we heard the voice of the killer. If you are interested in a well-written historical fiction and mystery piece, this is definitely a read for you!


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