- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (July 9, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385534817
- ISBN-13: 978-0385534819
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 749 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #644,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Light in the Ruins Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 9, 2013
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*Starred Review* Best-selling and versatile novelist Bohjalian (The Sandcastle Girls, 2012) returns to crime fiction in his fifteenth novel. In Florence in 1955, Francesca Rosati—still beautiful and aloof, though grieving for her husband and children—is murdered, her heart wrenched from her body. A serial killer is at work, preying on the Rosati family. Serafina Bettini, Florence’s only woman detective, wonders if the war has something to do with this gruesome vendetta. In extended flashbacks, we see Francesca and her children living with her dignified and generous in-laws at the Villa Chimera. This lush Tuscany estate becomes a magnet for Nazis, allies turned occupiers, who are fascinated by a newly discovered Etruscan tomb. Francesca’s young, lovely sister-in-law stokes an already combustible situation by falling in love with a Nazi lieutenant, and soon the gentle Rosatis find themselves trapped, forced to host Nazi officers while a determined band of partisans takes shelter in the Etruscan ruins. Serafina, severely scarred by burns suffered during the war, hunts not only for the serial killer but also for answers to the mystery of her own survival. 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
New York Times Bestseller
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."
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Top customer reviews
Like The Double Bind, Bohjahalian uses violence against women to create a spine-tingling mystery. Set in Italy in 1955, the reader hears the voice of the maniacal stalker who murders and cuts out the hearts of two patrician women. Alternating with the murderer’s voice is a recounting of detective Serafina Bettini’s investigation of the crimes. Serefina supposes that the murdered Rosatis women are murdered in retribution for the family’s collaboration with the Nazi’s during World War II. She has a personal connection to the family since she received an horrific injury while serving in the Italian resistance in a town near Rosatis villa. Through flashbacks, Bohjahalian helps us understand the difficulties landowners faced when the Nazi generals made demands upon their hospitality. The author also uses a love story between Christina Rosatis and a German officer to further complicate the plot. While an entertaining read and an interesting history of Italian resistance to Nazism, this novel is a far cry from the brilliance of The Double Bind. The characterizations do not have its depth and the plot does not have its psychological intensity. Still, a good read for a day at the beach.
The Light in the Ruins is a wartime family saga mixed with a suspenseful murder mystery. As I was reading, I kept thinking the book reminded me of a cross between Winter of the World by Ken Follett and The Monster of Florence, the true story of a serial killer who stalked lovers in the countryside outside Florence. And lo and behold, Bohjalian mentioned in the Afterward how The Monster of Florence helped him write this book!
He flips back and forth between the story of the Rosatis' experience as Italian aristocracy during World War II (the part that reminded me of Winter of the World) and the murder mystery happening ten years later in Florence (the part that reminded me of The Monster of Florence). It's clear that the two stories will intersect at some point and it's almost like they are hurtling towards each other...with the 1940′s story working forward and the 1950′s story going back in time. I loved this structure and I kept visualizing two trains on the same track speeding towards the inevitable collision that will explain everything.
As he alternates between the two time periods, Bohjalian also intersperses thoughts from the killer, which leave small clues to help the reader try to solve the mystery.
As I read more and more about WWII history, I continue to find angles of thought and experience that are new to me and this was no exception. This book focuses on the experiences of Italians who are "officially" allied with Germany, but who detest Hitler and the Germans in their hearts, and the moral compromises they make to survive. I also learned a lot about the wartime looting of Italian art and historical artifacts by the Germans.
This was a book that I just wanted to keep reading and I had to force myself to stop long enough to make notes for my review - which is a good thing! And, it would be a great book club selection.
For more reviews, check out my blog, Sarah's Book Shelves.
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".