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A Thread of Grace Paperback – December 6, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 224 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Mary Doria Russell's extraordinary and complex historical novel, A Thread of Grace, is the kind of book that you will find yourself haunted by long after finishing the last page. It opens with a group of Jewish refugees being escorted to safe-keeping by Italian soldiers. After making the arduous journey over a steep mountain pass, they are welcomed into a small village with warm food and clean beds. They have barely laid their heads to rest when news is received that Mussolini has just surrendered Italy to Hitler, putting them in danger yet again. This opening sequence is a grim foreshadowing of the heart-breaking journey these characters will experience in their struggle for survival.

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

Starred Review. Busy, noisy and heartfelt, this sprawling novel by Russell—a striking departure from her previous two acclaimed SF thrillers, The Sparrow and Children of God—chronicles the Italian resistance to the Germans during the last two years of WWII. Three cultures mingle uneasily in Porto Sant'Andrea on the Ligurian coast of northwest Italy—the Italian Jews of the village, headed by the chief rabbi Iacopo Soncini; the Italian Catholics, like Sant'Andrea's priest Don Osvaldo Tomitz, who befriend and shelter the Jews; and the occupying Germans invited by Mussolini's crumbling regime. In the last camp is the drunken, tubercular Nazi deserter, Doktor Schramm, a broken man who confesses to Don Osvaldo that while working in state hospitals and Auschwitz, he was responsible for murdering 91,867 people. Meanwhile, Jewish refugees in southern France, including Albert Blum and his teenage daughter, Claudette, are fleeing across the Alps to Italy, hoping to find sanctuary there. Russell pursues numerous narrative threads, including the Blums' perilous flight over the mountains; Italian Jew Renzo Leoni's personal coming to terms with his participation in the Dolo hospital bombing during the Abyssinian campaign in 1935; the dangerous frenzy of the Italian partisans; and the bloody-mindedness of German officers resolved to carry out Hitler's murderous racial policy despite mounting evidence of its futility. The action moves swiftly, with impressive authority, jostling dialogue, 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.
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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (December 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449004139
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449004135
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (224 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm a Jew from a family so assimilated that I never set foot in a synagogue until I was almost 40. Yet it is part of my identity in a way that has nothing to do with religious observance, and throughout my life it has struck me with particular force when confronting the Holocaust --- reading Anne Frank's diary; seeing the movie Judgment at Nuremberg; weeping at Yad Vashem, the museum and memorial in Jerusalem. Being Jewish makes me feel proud, different, and vulnerable all at the same time.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
I've read Mary Doria Russells other books, The Sparrow and Children of God and enjoyed both. I was a bit skeptical when I read the jacket material on Thread of Grace. Well, I should have known better. Thread of Grace is a tremendously well written and well researched novel. You will remember reading this book far into the future.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
Unlike Ms. Russell's previous works, "Thread of Grace" takes place in the past, not the future. Incredibly well-researched, it begins with Italy's armistice with the Allies, which is not good news for the Jewish people living in Italian-occupied territories. Accompanied by retreating Italians, they flee for Italy, only to discover, soon after, that the Germans have mostly taken control of Italy, too.

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.
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By A Customer on February 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
By the fall of 1943, European Jews not in death camps or murdered seek sanctuaries in places like Italy's Piedmont Province though this area as a refugee haven remains questionable. The small village of Porto Sant'Andrea is home for Italian Jews led by Rabbi Soncini, Italian Catholics led by Father Tomitz, and the occupying German army represented by Doktor Schramm. Into this mix come non-Italian Jews especially from occupied France.

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.

Harriet Klausner
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