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A Thread of Grace Paperback – December 6, 2005
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The rich fictional narrative is woven through the factual military maneuvers and political games at the end of WW II, sharing a little-known story of a group of Italian citizens that sheltered more than 40,000 Jews from grueling work camp executions. Rather than the bleak and hopeless feeling that might be expected, the novel has the opposite effect; it reminds us that just as there will always be war, crime, and death, so too will there be good people who selflessly sacrifice themselves to ease the suffering of others. Perhaps best of all, Russell succinctly opens and closes her writing with short pieces that bookend the story with the force of a freight train. Her moving finale wraps up her narrative in the present day, with a death bed scene that's sure to rip the heart out of readers of every faith and ancestry.
On the surface, Russell's third novel may seem quite different from her earlier works. Both The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God , were futuristic stories about Earth's first contact with alien life forms, but a closer look reveals several similarities. Fans of her earlier books will be pleased to find that Emilio Sandoz, the charismatic Jesuit priest from the first two books, finds new life in Renzo Leoni--A Thread of Grace's charming and haunted chameleon. The two have different circumstances and histories, but both characters are made of the same cloth--tormented by their consciences and plagued by unrequited love. Also similar to her earlier books, the characters in A Thread of Grace don't all enjoy a happy ending. A note in the reader's guide tells us that Russell flipped a coin to determine the fate of some of the characters. This may be upsetting for many readers, particularly those used to Hollywood endings, but it does serve as a frank reminder of the arbitrary nature of war and death. --Victoria Griffith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
More About the Author
Her debut novel, THE SPARROW, is considered a classic of speculative fiction, combining elements of First Contact science fiction and a tense courtroom drama. Its sequel, CHILDREN OF GOD, is a sweeping three-generation family saga. Through the voices of unforgettable characters, these novels raise respectful but challenging fundamental questions about religion and faith. Together, the books have won eight regional, national and international awards. They have also been optioned for Hollywood movies starring Antonio Banderas and Brad Pitt, and they have inspired both a rock opera and a full-scale bel canto opera.
Next, Russell turned to 20th century history. A THREAD OF GRACE is the story of the Jewish underground near Genoa during the Nazi occupation of Italy. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, this thriller "moves swiftly, with impressive authority, jostling dialog, vibrant personalities and meticulous, unexpected historical detail. The intensity and intimacy of Russell's storytelling, her sharp character writing and fierce sense of humor bring fresh immediacy to this riveting WWII saga," according to Publisher's Weekly.
Her fourth novel, DREAMERS OF THE DAY, is both a romance and a disturbingly relevant political novel about the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, when Winston Churchill, T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell invented the modern Middle East. The Washington Post Book World called it "marvelous and rewarding... a stirring story of personal awakening set against the background of a crucial moment in modern history." Nominated for the 2008 IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize, Dreamers of the Day is also being adapted for the stage by Going to Tahiti Productions in New York City.
As a novelist, Mary is known for her exacting research -- no surprise, when you know that she holds a Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from the University of Michigan. Before leaving Academe to write, Mary taught human gross anatomy at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dentistry. That background came in handy for her fifth novel, DOC, a murder mystery set in Dodge City in 1878, when the unlikely but enduring friendship between Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday began, four years before the famous shoot-out at the O.K. Corral.
"It's about vice, bigotry, violence, and living with a terminal disease," Russell says. "And Doc Holliday is going to break your heart." DOC was nominated for the Pulitzer in 2011, named a Notable Book by the Kansas State Library and won the Great Lakes Great Reads prize. The story has been optioned by Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman for an HBO series.
Mary is currently at work on the story of the Tombstone gunfight (working title: THE CURE FOR ANGER). "DOC is The Odyssey," she says. "What happened in Tombstone forms the basis of an American Iliad." Expect it in late 2014 from HarperCollins Ecco imprint.
Top Customer Reviews
A THREAD OF GRACE is part of that tragic narrative, but a more obscure one. Set in the ports and valleys of northwestern Italy (Aosta, Piemonte, Liguria) during the last two years of World War II, it tells the story of Jews, 43,000 of them --- both native-born Italians (of which there were many; the Jewish community in Rome is the oldest in Europe) and refugees from eastern Europe --- whose lives were saved by ordinary citizens. Russell, who calls herself "a Jew by choice and an Italian by heritage" (she is a convert, though she doesn't give details), seems the ideal writer to bring this piece of history to life, and she does it beautifully in an absorbing, generously proportioned novel.
This is the kind of book you need to read with a cheat sheet because there are so many personalities and interwoven story lines (Russell considerately provides a cast of characters; I could have used some maps, too). There are the Italian Jews, particularly the chief rabbi, Iacopo Soncini, and his wife, Mirella; and Renzo Leoni, a hardened former pilot who has as many identities as he has scars, and his mother, Lidia. There are the Italian Catholics: priests, nuns, and ordinary farmers and peasants who help shield the Jews --- and a big, innocent Calabrian infantryman who marries one.Read more ›
Thread of Grace is well written but very busy with crossing storylines. You may indeed need a list to keep things straight. Ms Russell pays great attention to detail in both her description of the physical location of the story (NW Italy) and in the characters she includes in the story. It is this detail that may overwhelm the casual reader.
The premise of the story, that there is a safe haven in Italy for Jews as they try to hide from their ultimate slaughter by the Nazi's is a compelling one. And it is true. The characters, a Jewish Rabbi, a Catholic Priest, the Italians of the region, and the Germans (collectively) face the moral and ethical dilemma all humans face in war. Russell does an excellect job dealing with the whole war/morality issue without preaching one way or the other.
Truly a worthwhile book. Get it and read it. I suspect we'll hear from Russell again.
Italian Jews and foreign refugees must all go into hiding, many assisted by Italian Catholics, and a few Italian Jews who hide in plain sight. We also meet many of the German officers who control the small, fictionalized area of Italy in which the story takes place.
Just like "The Sparrow" and "Children of God", however, Ms. Russell's characters are wonderfully crafted, and the story is told in a remarkably beautiful manner. Faith, philosophy, humor, warmth, despair, and humanity are all wrapped up in one moving, poignant package.
The three prime groups in the village have a tentative peaceful co-existence, but the influx of newcomers places that in jeopardy. The Italian Jews want to welcome their mostly religious kin with open arms. Father Tomitz sets the tone for his followers by providing shelter for the Jews. While Doktor Shramm hides with drink from his murdering almost 100,000 people of which he can account for seemingly everyone, the German leaders blindly follow orders to carry out the Final Solution. Into this volatile situation come the allies.
A THREAD OF GRACE is a fabulous complex historical tale (not sci fi as Mary Doria Russell's' two previous works are) that brings alive a dark era through seemingly real people. The story line is fast-paced with multiple subplots that add to the depth and the feel of 1943 Italy. With plenty of tidbits and multifaceted perspectives, the amazing part remains the ensemble cast regardless of national origin or religion which all seem so genuine; for instance the plight of a French Jew with his daughter struggling to cross the Alps to Italy is breathtaking. World War II readers will want to read this slice of an odious era where lights of courageous kindness existed.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I rarely read books written around WWII, but based on the reviews that I read and my newly found interest I decided to try it. I am glad that I did. Read morePublished 13 days ago by Trish
This novel concerns a part of world war !! that I am not familiar with and was extremely interesting and enlightening to me.Published 14 days ago by Cathy Grass
After reading this book, I feel almost like I lived through the end of WWII in Northern Italy. Russell had a lot to do to keep all the characters vivid and believable, while... Read morePublished 1 month ago by P. L. Dwyer
A powerful but devastating book - Russell does not spare any excruciating detail about the cruelty of war in this book - It is gut wrenching yet poetic wherein lies its brilliance.Published 2 months ago by lynne wimmer
This book is highly praiseworthy, as with MDR's first book "The Sparrow." I had a minor issue with shipping (which was entirely my fault) and the seller worked it out with... Read morePublished 2 months ago by M. Burner
Probably the best piece of historical fiction and chronicle of the Holocaust I have read in a long time. Read morePublished 3 months ago by fourwinn
Mary Doria Russell does a magnificent job of developing rich characters that you want to stay with. She writes very believable historical fiction and in Author's Notes she seals... Read morePublished 3 months ago by John H. Glover
It is an intriguing fictionalized account of the harrowing experiences of the partisans & Jews during
the Nazi occupation of northern Italy after the surrender of Italian... Read more