Thursday 4 November 2021

Book Review: The Girl from Venice by Siobhan Daiko @siobhandaiko

The Girl from Venice
By Siobhan Daiko

Publication Date: 29th June 2021
Page Length: 300 Pages
Genre: Romantic Historical/Women’s Fiction
Trigger Warnings: Death, Miscarriage, PTSD and Rape.

Lidia De Angelis has kept a low profile since Mussolini's racial laws wrenched her from her childhood sweetheart. But when the Germans occupy Venice in 1943, she must flee the city to save her life.

Lidia joins the partisans in the Venetian mountains, where she meets David, an English soldier fighting for the same cause. As she grows closer to him, harsh Nazi reprisals and Lidia’s own ardent anti-fascist activities threaten to tear them apart.

Decades later in London, while sorting through her grandmother’s belongings after her death, Charlotte discovers a Jewish prayer book, unopened letters written in Italian, and a fading photograph of a group of young people in front of the Doge’s Palace.

Intrigued by her grandmother’s refusal to talk about her life in Italy before and during the war, Charlotte travels to Venice in search of her roots. There, she learns not only the devastating truth about her grandmother’s past, but also some surprising truths about herself.

A heart-breaking page-turner, based on actual events in Italy during World War II.

The sound of heavy machine guns echoed and tracer bullets flew towards the barn. Seconds later, flames licked through the hay and set the building alight, cows bursting through the open doors.

‘Stop looking,’ David grunted. ‘It’s slowing you down.’

In 1938, Lidia De Angelis is following in her father’s footsteps, studying at university as a medical student. But when she shows up for a new school year, her sweetheart, Renzo, meets her on the university steps with a somber message—all Jews have been expelled. 

With the threat of war settling over them, the lives of Lidia and her friends hang in the balance. Mussolini’s blackshirts patrol the streets, and they are itching for someone to step out of line. Lidia must make a difficult decision. Her father does not want to leave Venice, it is his home, and he does not believe that his and Lidia’s lives are in immediate danger. Lidia cannot bear to leave him, but Renzo and his family already have plans to leave. Should she follow her head and get out before it is too late, or should she listen to her heart and stay with her father?

In 2010, Charlotte feels lost. She has broken up with her boyfriend, Gary, and is alone in her house in England. She doesn’t feel like she belongs, nor did she when she was growing up in Hong Kong. She is incredibly close to her Gran, Elena, but her Gran is lying in a hospice, barely holding onto life. When the inevitable occurs, Charlotte and her mother start clearing out her Gran’s house. While doing so, they come across some unexpected surprises. Elena had never spoken about her life before she had come to England, refusing to drag up memories that would be better left in the past. So when Charlotte and her mother uncover an old photograph, showing a young woman almost identical to Charlotte, and three unopened letters from Italy, Charlotte is desperate to know more about her Gran’s past. A trip to Italy might help her uncover her roots, might explain why her Gran wouldn’t speak of the past, and might help Charlotte finally feel a sense of belonging.

Following the story of two different generations, The Girl From Venice by Siobhan Daiko is an epic novel of love, betrayal, and finding where you truly belong.

Lidia is an especially brave woman. She is so young when her mother’s heritage, and the Jewish prayer book that she treasures, change her life. Her best friend, Marta, urges her to leave Venice, to move somewhere safer because of the increasing threat coming from the German occupation, but Lidia’s father is stubborn. He doesn’t heed the warnings coming from those around him. By 1943, Lidia has no choice and must leave Venice alone. With a new name and fake identification, she travels to live with the Zalunardi family, who welcome her as in to their home and treat her as one of their own. Rosina Zalunardi helps Lidia to become accustomed to the changed lifestyle. When Rosina’s brother, Antonio, announces that he is going to go up Monte Grappa to join the partisans, rather than be conscripted into Mussolini’s National Republican Army, Lidia sees a new option ahead of her. The partisans were not cowards, but individuals with enough courage to stand up against the Fascists, to let their views be known, and let everyone know that they were willing to fight for what they believed in. Reading about the partisans, about Lidia’s involvement when she joins them, thinking of the men as her lupetti, her wolf cubs, the group becoming her family, was inspiring to say the least. Here was a group of people who were strong enough to stand up against the oppressors, who refused to cower and hide, but instead climbed a mountain and held their position against the Fascists, who were too afraid to get anywhere near them. They played their part, ready to help the Allies to take back Italy.

Travelling to Italy, Charlotte begins her search for her Gran’s past, with the help of Alex and Francesca, the siblings running the hotel that Charlotte stays in. Despite swearing off men after Gary, Charlotte cannot deny the sparks that are flying between her and Alex, as he and Francesca become close friends with Charlotte, sharing their knowledge of the area’s history to help Charlotte on her quest. As Charlotte follows in her Gran’s footsteps, over 60 years later, she finds things that she never expected—she finds herself. Charlotte’s mission may seem an impossible challenge, but, like Lidia, Charlotte is not one to give up, to see a difficult road ahead and turn around. She is the kind of person to brace herself and continue down the road, taking what may come her way and forcing her way forward. Like Lidia, I admired Charlotte. She has just lost the one person that means the world to her, yet she pushes on. She has been alone, yet she finds friends and, as she finds out more about why her Gran refused to speak of her past in Italy, Charlotte starts thinking about her future, and whether the handsome Alex might play a part in it.

This is not a romanticised novel of the era—Daiko does not brush over the horrors, the fear, or the death. Not everyone gets a happy ever after, for many did not. Innocent people suffered terribly, and many paid with their lives what was not owed. The methods used by The German Command and Black Brigades to round up the partisans, offering them a pardon to draw them out and turning the offer around when they had the men in their grasp, were horrifying. There is no honour in war, and this story shows that. Nevertheless, love is something that is known to prevail, and as Lidia gives her heart away, her future seems predestined, despite anything she may go through to reach that destiny.

The Girl From Venice by Siobhan Daiko will tug at your heartstrings, and leave you desperate for more, as Charlotte and Lidia refuse to give up, fighting their way forwards, whether they were fighting Nazis or information long since hidden. This is an enthralling read, as both women find their places in the world, figuring out where they, and their hearts, belong.

I Highly Recommend

Review by Ellie Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club

This novel is free to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.

Siobhan Daiko is an international bestselling historical romantic fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese puppy and two rescue cats. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time, when she isn't writing, enjoying the sweet life near Venice. 

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