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Lambrusco: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 22, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon (April 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375424962
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375424960
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,729,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this heartfelt if uneven portrayal of a widow's wartime struggles, Cooney captures the chaos visited upon the Italian countryside during WWII. Lucia Fantini, renowned for her operatic performances in the family restaurant, finds herself on a mission to find her son, Beppi, who went into hiding after blowing up a German tank. In her travels, she crosses paths with an American woman, a former golf champion who is part of army intelligence; distant neighbors whose homes have been bombed; and people who have been involved with the restaurant. Cooney takes great pains to capture the individual idiosyncrasies of the characters, but the many competing personalities dilute Lucia's story. Flashbacks appear frequently, and though some are illuminating, the combination of recollections, the present story and Lucia's occasional delusions (one minute, bombs are falling, the next, Lucia is having a conversation with Verdi and Puccini over who is the greater musician) lacks balance. Still, Cooney (A Private Hotel for Gentle Ladies) accomplishes her task of portraying, on a very personal level, the moxie and individuality of the Italian villagers as they face the challenges of war. (Apr.)
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“Cooney’s darkly comic journey of revelation triumphantly demonstrates the sustaining power of love, duty, family, and friendship.”

“Lovingly presented . . . touching . . . Cooney explores how war causes not just injury to the body, but more importantly explains how every participant can be ‘injured in his nerves, in his self, in his soul.’”

"This is surely Ellen Cooney's most original work. Who else would have placed a squad of partisans in the Italian Resistance, who happen to be waiters in a seaside restaurant famous for the opera sung by the owner's wife, against a backdrop of bombed, wartorn Italy? The effect is positively Felliniesque."
—Anita Desai

More About the Author

Ellen Cooney is the author of nine novels and stories published in The New Yorker and many literary journals. A fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, she was a writer in residence in the writing program at MIT for many years, and she also taught creative writing at Boston College and the Extension School of Harvard. A native of Massachusetts, she now lives in midcoast Maine, where she's at work on a new novel. To find out more, visit

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Lucia Fantini was once in love with life. The emotional heart of her husband's village restaurant Aldo's, Lucia fed her many customers' hearts even as the wonderful food fed their stomachs. She nightly entertained the restaurants' guests with the music of Verdi, Rossini and Puccini --- her country's most notable opera composers. Dressed in beautiful gowns to complement the musical selections, Lucia used her voice to elicit a romantic ambience, even a marriage proposal or two. Surrounded by her many neighbors and co-workers and her small but loving family (her husband Aldo and her son Giuseppi, nicknamed Beppi), Lucia had a life full of friends, family and music.

But that was before Benito Mussolini's fascist Blackshirts, and then the German Nazis, seemed to infiltrate every corner of Italy. Even Aldo's, once a safe harbor for Lucia's neighbors, has been filled with hostile strangers. When Aldo dies, Lucia feels estranged from her old life. Now she no longer sings for the love of life --- instead, she substitutes the name of her favorite wine (Lambrusco) for the words of her beloved arias, which have become too painful to sing.

Lucia is not the only one mourning the loss of her old life. The cooks and waiters at the restaurant --- and even some of their children --- have become partisans, secretly plotting against the fascist influences around them. Before long, Lucia has become the perfect gun runner for the ragtag organization --- no one would suspect this innocent-looking woman of hiding guns and ammunition in bags of flour! But when Beppi blows up a German tank and then goes on the run, Lucia's involvement with the resistance movement takes on a new urgency.
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Format: Hardcover
Lambrusco takes place in 1943 during World War II in German occupied Italy. Italian leader Mussolini is still alive and has many fascist followers throughout Italy. Those fighting the "Blackshirts" have to watch their actions and words to avoid punishment from the Germans and their followers. Lucia Fantini is a soprano who loves to sing opera in their restaurant, music that had been written by the most famous opera composers, but mostly those that were Italian. Lucia and her husband Aldo had owned a Restaurant before the war started and, like many others, lost their businesses to the fascist's that took over many buildings to assist the Germans. Aldo had died before the war but Lucia can't get him out of her mind as well as all their children and family that were so close before wartime came to Italy. Many of the Italians worked for the underground movement fighting their enemies and performing many brave acts to assist others fighting those enemies in their own homeland. For many it was "hit, run, and hide" to avoid capture. For their families these patriots were rarely in touch with them but were always hitting the enemy where they could do the most hurt to them.

When villages were hit by bombs destroying or damaging buildings to the point that they were unlivable, the people had to roam the countryside to avoid capture and/or conflict with their enemies. This story took place during a time of history that I have always been eager to learn about from all sides. This is the first book that I have read that tells the war from the Italian side during a time before the allies had liberated Italy from the German occupation. While I feel that Ellen Cooney had a great story to tell, I feel that the intertwining of family and friends made parts of the book quite hard to follow.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Arystarca on October 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
Honestly, I gave it a valiant effort, but after the first flashback, I was regrettably bored. After a while I just was trying to figure out the next plot element, to understand why the people who are being featured at any given time in the book were being focused on. Maybe the author ties these elements together later in the book than where I left off, but I felt like I had to cross miles of rather, uninteresting desert to try to find any oasis of epiphany and felt pretty much denied. (I did not finish -- I would have hated to have put in all the effort of getting to the end only to have regretted the time I spent on it.)

There is a lot of train-of-thought writing; sometimes conversations with characters take place only in the main character's head, which becomes confusing when you suddenly read the main character thinking in a way that is out-of-character and it's not really clear why. There is a huge cast of characters given as a list at the front of the book, but I did not really find it helpful. Some of the characters were just plain uninteresting and the absurd lengths of random, meaningless conversations were exquisitely painful.

Moreover, Lucia, herself, is non-existent, made up only of her observations, a complete receptacle for everything around her. In the process of trying to weave the rest of the world, Cooney has not solidified Lucia, but she places the book in Lucia's perspective, and the significance of her interactions are frustratingly absent.
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By Book Lover on July 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"Lambrusco" is the story of one woman's journey as she searches for her missing son across war torn Italy. The novel takes place during World War II and while war provides the horrific background, this is not a story about war itself, but rather about the way it affects those who are surrounded and engulfed by it. It is a story about ordinary people banded together in difficult, extraordinary times. It is about hope, the ways in which we, as individuals, affect those around us, about family, friends, and community. From the moment the book opens, with a list of the cast of characters, you know you are in for an interesting ride. Although the novel is told from Lucia's point of view, there are moments where Lucia's imagination takes over and the result is a panorama of all the things that make us human - our imaginations, fears, lusts, our love, our tenacity, and the relationships we forge and build in even the worst of circumstances. While Lucia must face devastating events, it is her hope, her voice that ultimately survives. The beginning of the novel sets up the journey Lucia must make, but it is the second half which really showcases Ms. Cooney's talent. She creates some real moments of beauty and humor, not an easy task considering the circumstances. Overall, "Lambrusco" is a worthwhile read from a talented writer.
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