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The Light in the Ruins Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 9, 2013
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One of Barnes & Noble's “Best Books of July.”
One of Oprah Magazine's “Ten Titles to Pick Up Right Now.”
"A mystery that reminds us of the harrowing choices World War II forced on so many. Beautifully structured, written with restrained intensity and suspenseful to the end, this is both a satisfying mystery and a gut-wrenching account of moral dilemma in a time of moral struggle."
—People, 4 Stars
"The Light in the Ruins, Chris Bohjalian’s brilliantly crafted historical novel . . . switches back and forth from the mid-1940s, while the war is raging, to the mid-’50s . . . The alternating time frame keeps the reader suspicious of everyone, but whether likable or loathsome, Bohjalian’s characters are utterly compelling . . . The book’s payoff is greater than figuring out whodunit. Bohjalian repeatedly confronts us with the moral dilemmas of wartime . . . In this novel, Bohjalian contemplates painful choices while offering a tour-de-force murder mystery, heartbreaking romance and a dazzling denouement that will tear your heart out.”
—Eugenia Zukerman, The Washington Post
"An intriguing tale of Bohjalian complexity . . . The Light in the Ruins is plotted with an elegance worthy of an Etruscan. It pivots between creation and destruction, the past and the present, and the uneasy chimerical points where they collide."
—Ellen Kanner, The Miami Herald
"Addictive, fast-paced, and often frankly terrifying . . . Bohjalian has created an entertaining, thought-provoking, and disturbingly contemporary fictional world in which compassion and outrage are two sides of the same coin . . . Fling open the shutters. Settle in a comfortable chair. Lock the doors, Then turn to the first page of The Light in the Ruins and let the shadows in."
—Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans, The Philadelphia Inquirer
"With each book, Bohjalian flexes his literary muscles, crafting a ghost story, historical fiction, and now police procedural. . . . [Bohjalian] is skilled at evoking the sepia-tinged past."
“Dead solid perfect. Bohjalian has written another winner.”
—Curt Schleier, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"A spellbinding mix of history and mystery."
“At the heart of a good novel is a good story, and this story is a doozy. Bohjalian expertly weaves together a tale of how the war split Italy between the people who willingly collaborated with the Germans and the ones who did not. . . . Not every author could manage to tell a war story, throw in a serial killer and drop in several interesting romances, but Bohjalian manages.”
—Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Haunting . . . heartbreaking . . . elegiac.”
—Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
“Historic fiction at its very finest . . . This novel moves with the heat and inexorable flow of lava. Not to be missed.”
—Edmund August, The Louisville Courier-Journal
“A brilliant blend of historical fiction and a chilling serial killer story . . . a page-turner that the reader will not soon forget.”
—Deborah Donovan, BookPage
“Bohjalian subtly and skillfully manipulates our suspicions . . . trusting his readers to foment their own speculations . . . Well-researched, historically interesting.”
—Julie Wittes Schlack, The Boston Globe
“Masterfully crafted . . . a near-perfect blend of historical fiction, mystery, and suspense.”
—Brighid Moret, The Washington Times
“A masterpiece . . . a terrific read that will transport both long-time fans and newcomers back in time to one of the most turbulent periods in Italian history.”
—Ray Palen, BookReporter
"Bohjalian effectively blends the symbolism into the story to make readers feel tension, fear and disgust. The novel also gives readers a look at the murderous atmosphere of fascist Italy, a warped circumstance that reverberated years after the war ended." —David Hendricks, The San Antonio Express-News
“The Rosatis’ Etruscan burial site, effectively ravaged and exploited by the Germans for its potentially priceless artifacts, becomes the metaphor for the excruciating violations unfolding across the entire continent. Similarly, Bohjalian raises questions about the nature of injustice and the, often, arbitrary codes we deploy in order to keep a firm grasp on right and wrong, good and evil, or hero and villain. The Light in the Ruins offers an engaging story that unspools in such a way as to keep the reader with her nose to the pages long after the light has actually faded.”
—Sheila Moeschen, New York Journal of Books
“A taut, suspenseful page-turner . . . Bohjalian effortlessly turns a work of historical fiction into a breathless whodunit.”
—Wendy Plotkin, The Armenian Weekly
“The Light in the Ruins elucidates, haunts and raises moral quandaries . . . . Bohjalian’s historical re-telling is riveting . . . . A memorable read.”
—Claudia Puig, USA Today
"Chilling . . . A gifted storyteller, Bohjalian provides his readers with yet another engaging book—a murder mystery that keeps you guessing right up to the end."
"Thoroughly gripping, beautiful, and astonishingly vengeful, this novel is a heartbreaker. Bohjalian's latest turn to historical fiction is immensely rewarding."
—Julie Kane, Library Journal (starred review)
“Hypnotic and harrowing, a mesmerizing read . . . Run—don't walk—to the bookstore for this gem.”
—Nicholas Addison Thomas, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star
"Mastering matters subtle and grotesque, Bohjalian combines intricate plotting and bewitching sensuality with historical insight and a profound sense of place to create an exceptional work of suspense rooted in the tragic aberrations of war."
—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Incredible. . .Bohjalian's best yet.”
—Diane LaRue, Auburn Citizen
"A literary thriller . . . a soulful why-done-it."
"An exploration of post-WWII Italy doubles as a murder mystery in this well-crafted novel . . . an entertaining historical whodunit."
"A must-read . . . stunning . . . Bohjalian specializes in the suspense created when people are cut off, physically and emotionally, from society (as he did in his best-selling Midwives). Here he goes back in time to create that suspense, with a compelling female detective running from demons of her own as his heroine."
—Mary Duan, Tucson Weekly
"The Light in the Ruins is a riveting re-creation of a time and place long gone, but not forgotten."
—Valerie Ryan, Shelf Awareness
"One of the fifteen best books of summer . . . A picturesque page turner."
More About the Author
His new novel, "The Guest Room" -- a literary thriller about a marriage in crisis, two remarkable women, and human trafficking -- was just published.
His books have been chosen as Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Hartford Courant, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Bookpage, and Salon.
His awards include the ANCA Freedom Award for his work educating Americans about the Armenian Genocide; the ANCA Arts and Letters Award for The Sandcastle Girls, as well as the Saint Mesrob Mashdots Medal; the New England Society Book Award for The Night Strangers; the New England Book Award; Russia's Soglasie (Concord) Award for The Sandcastle Girls; a Boston Public Library Literary Light; a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Trans-Sister Radio; and the Anahid Literary Award. His novel, Midwives, was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah's Book Club, and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. He is a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He has written for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest, and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. He was a weekly columnist in Vermont for the Burlington Free Press from 1992 through 2015.
Chris graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from Amherst College, and lives in Vermont with his wife, the photographer Victoria Blewer. Their daughter, Grace Experience, is a young actor in New York City. Among the audiobooks she has narrated are "Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands" and "The Guest Room."
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Top Customer Reviews
Set in two time-frames, the story revolves around the Rosatis family. In 1943-44, Italy is being run by the Nazis and the Fascists, partisans live in the hills and attempt as much damage to both as possible. The Rosatis family has a villa in the countryside where years before an Etruscan tomb was unearthed. The Nazis have been plundering Italian art and artifacts bringing their unwanted attention to the Rosatis. Our protagonist Serafina Bettini, is a member of a band of partisans.
In 1955 the story becomes a murder mystery when remaining members of the Rosatis family are murdered in a specifically grizzly fashion. Serafina is now a police detective in Florence. She has been physically and psychologically damaged by her partisan past. Bohjalian does a terrific job of bringing us into her world where she is something of a freak being a physically deformed former killer, a woman detective, and single at 30 in 1955; nothing normal about any of that!
For me, a good historical novel sends me happily researching to find out more about the time and the setting. "The Light in the Ruins" sent me off to explore Etruscan art, Chimera, the Ahnenerbe, and the Italian resistance movement. I've had the fortune to have visited Florence, Rome, the Uffizi, and even little Fiesole, so I reveled in Bohjalian's descriptions of these places and my memories of them.
I would like to echo Chris Bohjalian's own recommendation in his "Acknowledgements" and urge readers interested in Italy during WWII to also read Mary Doria Russell's excellent novel, "A Thread of Grace".
For the noble Rosati family, living in the Villa Chimera in the Tuscan hill country near Florence, the harsh reality of war could still almost be ignored. Cristina, 18 years old, took daily rides on her beloved horse, went swimming in the pool with her young niece and nephew, and shared meals and wine with her sister-in-law and her parents. Her two brothers were in the army, but Vittore was nearby, in Florence, and Marco in Sicily. Maybe the war would be over soon and they could all be together once again.
But the turmoil of Italy, as the war drew to its cataclysmic end, plays out in microcosm at the Villa Chimera. There are angry murmurs in the village, and even among some family members, about Antonio Rosati's having Germans as guests at the Villa Chimera. Now, one of those German guests and his own daughter Cristina seem to be falling in love. As the fighting between the Germans and the Allies and partisans intensifies, the Tuscan hills become a battleground and the Villa Chimera transforms from a haven to a pawn of war.
Ten years after the war's end, Serafina Bettini is one of very few female police officers in Italy, and definitely the only homicide detective.Read more ›
The author astonishes the reader immediately with a grotesque murder of a beautiful woman in 1955. Her heart is cut out of her body and placed on a dressing table in her squalid apartment in Florence, Italy. The murderer addresses the reader in first person and we are immediately caught up in extreme act of violence and hatred. And whom did he kill? Not a Nazi or a Mussolini supporter, but a young widow, Francesca Rosati, in her 30's who lost her Italian husband and two children in 1943.
The story behind this act brings to light the dichotomy between the ardent Nazis, with little or no education of artifacts and the serene, elegant Rosati villa with its symbols and tombs. Believing that their family would be safe, the Rosatis, of noble lineage, carry on their usual idyllic life far removed from the European War. This sanctuary is abandoned when two soldiers, one German and one Italian descend on the villa asking to see the Etruscan burial site and later demanding hospitality.
The author also depicts Cristina Rosati, the youngest daughter, as a profound character whose experiences and actions during 1943 impacts the genius of the plot. Another beautiful Italian, Serafina Bettini, is an investigator for the Florence police and is assigned to the horrific murder of Francesca. Serrafina endures her own emotional and physical scars as she unfolds the Rosati cold-blooded murders.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
First reaction,wow,this author has become one of my favorites. Each book I read from this author seems better than the last. Read morePublished 4 days ago by Kimberly Casey
Not as good as the Guest Room, but well written and suspenseful. Very well researched and drew you into the World War years i n an occupied country. Read morePublished 7 days ago by Carole McGraw
I had a hard time getting through this book. I found it confusing in time sequence and character's names.Published 7 days ago by Carolyn
What I was drawn to in this book, was the location, Italy. This murder mystery takes place in Florence, Rome and a beautiful villa outside Florence. Read morePublished 20 days ago by Marianne Bailey
I enjoyed the book very much and it kept me guessing until near the end. I especially appreciated the setting in WWII Italy and all of the issues with the Nazi's interest in the... Read morePublished 22 days ago by Amazon Customer
This historical ficton was difficult to read due to the nature of the treacherous acts committed during WW II when the Nazis, the partisan groups, and the elite were in constant... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Sunny
A truly powerful and vivid landscape of sorrow. An eloquently written, intertwining tale of personal tragedies and triumphs during a terrible time of war.Published 1 month ago by Leota J. Misiak