Online Reading Challenge – Wrap Up

Challengers! How did your reading go this month? Did you find a gem? Or was the month a clunker for you?

I read A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. It is quite good, a can’t-put-down, I’m-still-thinking-about-it that follows a lesser-known part of World War II. It’s also pretty grim and includes some gruesome scenes. It’s not a light read, but it is well worth the effort.

It’s 1943. Mussolini has been defeated and Italy has broken with Germany and made peace with the Allies. Thousands of Jewish refugees struggle over the Alps, away from Eastern Europe toward what they believe will be a safe place to wait out the war. Instead, they discover that the war is still very much present in Italy with the Nazis’ arrival, the Resistance battling them, Jews forced to flee or go into hiding again and ordinary citizens simply trying to survive. The Nazi rule is harsh and unrelenting – anytime a German soldier is killed by a Resistance fighter, 20 (or more) citizens are killed in retaliation. Sweeps are enacted regularly searching for hidden Jews or Resistance fighters; any that are found are killed or deported (to death camps) as are those that hid or aided them. Food and fuel are scarce. And then the Allies begin bombing the tiny villages and towns in an effort to break the weakening German Army.

A Thread of Grace follows a variety of people living in this Italian valley including a priest, a Resistance leader, an Italian Jewish family, a German doctor, Eastern European Jews who have fled to Italy, an Italian soldier and several Catholic nuns. Each has suffered great losses and struggle to continue against impossible odds. There is despair and sorrow and anger, but there is also fellowship and kindness. The Italians, whether Jewish, Catholic or atheist, open their homes to the Jewish refugees without hesitation, often risking their own lives, hiding, feeding and clothing them with no expectation of repayment.

You get a real sense of what the war meant in this Italian valley – the desperation, the randomness, the cruelty. The kindness of strangers is breathtaking – Italian soldiers helping the refugees over the mountains by carrying their luggage or a tired child, nuns hiding orphan refugee children among their other charges, helping a sick German doctor, a deserter, even though he has caused thousands of deaths, and confusing and distracting soldiers at checkpoints to smuggle someone past.  Although this is fiction, Russell spent several years researching this part of the Italian campaign. It has often been overlooked once the Allied invasion began and attention shifted to Normandy and France. In fact, the war continued in Italy, with a devastating toll, until May 1945.

I did have some trouble keeping the large cast of characters, hailing from various families and nationalities, straight but there is a list of the major players at the beginning of the book. This book is often difficult to read, but it is well worth the effort, an eye-opening look at both the worst and the best of humans.

Now it’s your turn. What did you read this month?

5 thoughts on “Online Reading Challenge – Wrap Up

  1. Since my reserve for “The lost book of the Grail” by Charles Lovett just came in, I have yet finished it. So far it is intriguing. Arthur, instructor, is in quest of the holy grail of King Arthur legend. His grandfather told him stories of where it might be. I’m enjoying the story very much.

  2. Hi Rita,
    I think “The Lost Book of the Grail” will be worth the wait – I really enjoyed it with all the twists and turns and history. Glad you’re enjoying it so far!
    Thanks for reading along with us!

  3. I attempted to read “The Shack” this month but I just couldn’t finish it. I initially got pulled in by the story but when it got to a certain part I just couldn’t finish it. It was too weird for me.

  4. For this months choice, I read Shadows in the Sun: Healing from Depression and Finding the Light Within by Gayathri Ramprasad. The author’s journey from India to the U.S. while trying to deal with depression was incredibly moving. Starting in a culture that believed depression was sign of an angered God and ending up in a society where medicine and various treatments are used to make a person “normal”, Gayathri’s journey was turbulent and unbearably painful.
    Drawing on her Hindu heritage, combined with Western medicine, the author is finally able to find a place where she is at peace and comfortable within herself. This book is an excellent cross-cultural look at mental illness, it’s treatment and the role families and society play in the concept of self.

  5. Wow. This sounds amazing. And relates to both our reading about religion and medicine! Thanks for your comment! Ann

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