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The Light in the Ruins Hardcover – Deckle Edge, July 9, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 710 customer reviews

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Intrusion: A Novel
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*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."
Entertainment Weekly
“Dead solid perfect. Bohjalian has written another winner.”
—Curt Schleier, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"A spellbinding mix of history and mystery."
Parade Magazine
“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."
The Missourian

"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."
—Kirkus Reviews

"An exploration of post-WWII Italy doubles as a murder mystery in this well-crafted novel . . . an entertaining historical whodunit."
—Publishers Weekly 

"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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Product Details

  • 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
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (710 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #349,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Lins TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I love Chris Bohjalian best when he is writing historical fiction (i.e., "Skeletons at the Feast", "Sandcastle Girls"); his new novel is part historical fiction part murder mystery called, "The Light in the Ruins" and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The setting is Tuscany which afforded him a lush and vivid palette upon which to paint his story. The time is WWII and ten years after.

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".
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Two time periods alternate chapters in this story: 1943/44 and 1955. To say that Italy was in flux in 1943/44 would be an understatement. The war was turning against the Axis, and it was clear Italy would become a battleground. Germany, ostensibly Italy's ally, tore off the disguise of friend and became an occupier. Former enthusiastic supporters of the Fascist Blackshirts were hedging their bets. Anti-fascist partisans prowled the hills, sabotaging the German war effort. Ordinary Italians just tried to weather the storm.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Chris Bohjalian transports us over a 12 year time period moving us from 1943 and 1955 - it is a synchronization that compels the reader to go on a journey with the author's subject and characters. Historically, it is carefully written portraying the atrocities of WWII reverberating in the bucolic ancient villa of the Rosati family.

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.
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