Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Last Train from Liguria by Christine Dwyer Hickey
So you’re raving about it?
…writing as deep and warm and soft as a kiss, a story as stark as a knife, you have to read it, it’s going to be 2009’s big Irish novel. Buy three copies at least, because this is the kind of book you press on your friends, and you’ll want to keep one for yourself.
Gripping from the start?
Actually, no. It starts with a depressing scene from the 1920s when a drunk wakes up having apparently murdered his sister, and goes on the run.
At first you’ll keep reading because of the beauty of the writing, which has the kind of immediacy where you actually think you’re the characters. Which is amazing, because they’re very different from each other - reserved, wise Bella in the 1930s, her messed-up granddaughter Anna in the 1990s, whose one-night stand is one of the funniest scenes I’ve read.
So what’s the story, morning glory?
Bella goes to work as a private tutor to Alec, the son of a beautiful German Jewish woman and a dying Italian aristocrat. ‘Edward King’ - the putative murderer of the first scene - is his music teacher. Over the years they become loving surrogate parents to Alec, whose mother remarries and basically forgets him. Then the anti-Jewish laws come into effect in Italy, and they have to try to smuggle him out before the Nazis get him.
I don’t really like those Holocaust novels
Me neither - there’s often a kind of lip-licking excitement about them. But this is different - you get to love Alec, and the reserved Bella and secretive Edward, and the odd lives they live.
I didn’t know Italy deported Jews?
Me neither, either. But they did - and Alec’s stepfather pays lots of money to priests and nuns to get him out, using his teachers to smuggle him and his baby half-sister, in a terrifying flight. I promise you, this is the best book of the year. It’s extraordinary.